Monday Morning Critic – 5.16.11 – Django Unchained Script Review, Hot Tub Time Machine, Bully Beatdown

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

Am I the only MMA aficionado that isn’t a fan of Bully Beatdown on MTV? I keep asking myself that after watching the show for the first time this weekend.

Bully Beatdown, for those unfamiliar with it, has a simple premise. Jason “Mayhem” Miller aids people getting bullied by bringing their bully inside a cage to take on a professional fighter. They have five minutes to grapple and five minutes to kick box with them. The bully can win up to $10,000 if they survive both without being knocked out once or submitted five times; any money they lose goes into the hands of their victims.

I had paid no mind to this show for the most part, mainly because it’s on MTV and history has shown that when you call yourself “music television” and yet don’t play music (for the most part) the only thing that happens is that brain cells are going to lower at an accelerated pace. But it popped up in my YouTube queue as a recommendation, as someone had placed it online (illegally, I believe, but hadn’t been caught yet) so I figured I’d pop it on. Why? Because I wanted to see what the fuss was about and it was a click away.

Jason “Mayhem” Miller, star of MTV’s “Bully Beatdown”

Miller is engaging as a personality, and I enjoy watching him fight too, but I tend to avoid fighter projects that don’t involve them actually fighting. Thus I avoided Bully Beatdown, mainly because it’s been derided as a stunt show that’s more pro wrestling than it is an actual show involving fighting. Considering all of the anti-bully PSA’s coming out, as well as Glee making it a big to do about bullying, I figured I’d like to take a look at this. I guess it comes down to me thinking about what does Jason Miller and MTV have to say about bullying?

Apparently not much as the only thing I could come up with was “let someone fight your battle for you.”

It kind of bugged me more than it entertained me to, frankly, because with all of the anti-bullying stuff coming out and having been out it just reeks of something out of a film. I remember My Bodyguard as a kid doing the same thing and that film bothered me on that premise too. But then again I was always capable of handling myself so I guess I can see why some people would need help. But here’s the thing: it’s just bothersome to see the victims and the audience get so excited that a professional is beating up an untrained novice.

You know I get why everyone is so excited, as it is some semblance of “justice” for a “bully” to get his ass kicked on national television by a professional ass-kicker, but what kind of message is it sending? That watching a rank amateur get mauled on national television by someone is somehow ok, that bullying a bully is ok? I hate to sound like a pansy here but it just doesn’t feel right to me. It’s like raping someone convicted of sexual assault, you know? Yeah they are getting what they deserve, as much as one can in this scenario, but ultimately the bully loses nothing in this. He got beat up by a professional fighter.

There’s no shame in that.

I’d feel a bit ashamed if I had someone else fight my battles for me. There is the old Chicago adage that if they bring a knife, you bring a gun. In this case if they’re harassing you with their fists, an aluminum bat to the kneecap is an equalizer. Jason Miller recruiting someone to beat them up in a game show format doesn’t do the same in my mind. All it is emphasizing the victim’s status as opposed to empowering them in any way. You might give them change in their pocket, and a bully might take a beating, but all he’s done is just that. Take a beating.

What kind of lesson has he learned? That if you bully people that a professional fighter might get paid to beat you up?

I used to think Jersey Shore was as exploitative as MTV could get bad I was sadly mistaken. But then again thoughts like these kept me out of the good colleges.

Random Thoughts of the Week

One of the perks of writing online is that occasionally you get to meet people who can help you in odd ways. Over the years I’ve met enough people who are famous, or are quasi-famous in some minor degree or connected to someone in either walk of fame, that occasionally when you get a 3am call from someone oddly named in your mobile phone you pick it up.

It’s a trick I picked up from Entourage, oddly enough, as Eric (Kevin Connolly) puts in Rupert Pupkin in as his code name for Vinnie Chase (Adrian Grenier). Pupkin is the lead character in King of Comedy by Scorsese, for those who don’t get the reference, and I’m not nearly that clever. And normally I keep the number (or three) in there just because I don’t normally answer my mobile without actually having the number in it. Hence I knew who was calling when I half mumbled “Do you know what time it is in Chicago, [string of profanities that together made no sense]?”

“Dude, do you want to read Django Unchained or what?”

That’ll wake a guy up in the middle of the night without an IV drip of Starbucks set on “tidal wave.” So of course I wanted to take a look and I wasn’t the only one who got a copy of this, apparently. The Guardian, a UK paper, has a great story about it all.

QT and a copy of the front page

Apparently there’s a leak at The Weinstein Company somewhere. I wouldn’t doubt it if Tarantino leaked it himself, if only to get more people talking about it before it went into production. There are always things like the “Black List of Unproduced Screenplays*” to generate buzz for a film but leaking things, especially of this nature, doesn’t happen from a mailroom clerk. When a work print quality version of Sicko and X-Men Origins: Wolverine both found themselves online the first thing I thought of was that someone higher up had to have leaked it if only to generate buzz.

So yes … I did receive a copy of what is apparently the Django Unchained script and it is the same copy (I matched up the first page and various other marks with online postings from other blogs) that’s been going around so I can safely assume one of two things. Both give us several different options at work that we have to discuss and contemplate before discussing the script itself.

The first option is that we’re all being duped with a great script from someone else’s mind and Tarantino’s name, which is quite possible. A fake Matrix: Reloaded script made the rounds, and that turned out to be a fan boy script, so it’s not as if this could be a fake. Certain things probably could be faked by a brilliant enough mind and it’s a reasonable judgment to suspect that this isn’t the real deal. To doubt its veracity is something that has to be considered. It’s totally possible that someone else wrote this and is just messing with everyone.

If that’s the case then whoever wrote it should get a script deal immediately.

The other is that this is the real McCoy and Tarantino has had a script leaked he recently just completed. I think it might be a record from completion to unauthorized internet release on the “Oh wow” scale. It has all the signature marks of Tarantino’s writing style, with a handwritten cover and hand numbered pages, so it probably the real thing.

My guess is that it’s the real deal because it’s just too good to be a copy of Tarantino’s writing style. There are certain hallmarks of the man as a writer that I don’t think you could duplicate, no matter how good you are at writing with someone else’s voice. I’d go with an 80/20 judgment on its authenticity, as there are some reasonable doubts but unless QT himself says it’s a fake then I can probably safely assume it’s not. That and The Weinstein Company has sent out cease and desist letters for discussing the copy I have to other websites. You don’t do that unless it’s the real deal. Harvey Weinstein is a lot of things but he doesn’t sick his attorneys on websites without just cause. One question remains, it seems, in light of all this: Could this make for a good film?

Old school spaghetti western

I’d go a solid Maybe.

This script has a lot of brilliance that will probably come out once lensing begins as opposed to being purely on paper. We’ve already reported on the film’s basic premise, as well as who is in talks to star in it, but it’s essentially a spaghetti western buddy flick. The premise is simple: Django is a slave who teams up with a German bounty hunter to free Mrs. Django in the South before the Civil War from an evil plantation owner**.

The thing that’s most apparent about the script, and again I stress it’s just the script so far (and could be subject to ad-libbing and improvisation as well as additional on set writing adjustments, maybe a polish beforehand), is that if it makes it to the screen close to this form then it’s going to be another fight with the MPAA to get it down from an NC-17 to an R. My guess is that QT wrote this going for an NC-17, expecting to cut material down once filming has been completed.

It’s remarkably vulgar and not just with the racial slurs from the era. This is perhaps the coarsest script Tarantino has written since Reservoir Dogs, which itself towed that line between R and NC-17 based on language alone, and this film also tops that with a massive body count. This is quite a violent film that’ll probably end up with a couple scenes cut, or scaled back significantly, based on the violence and body count being almost too much to squeeze into an R rating. It’s hard to look at this and go “you know, that’s appropriate for an R” unless you have some warped sensibilities.

It’s one thing to be able to write a scene that’s over the top in both categories, it’s another to film it and get it released without your film getting into trouble when it comes to a proper rating. You can go into production putting what you want into a film for what you think is a rating and sometimes the MPAA won’t agree. Look at the way The Weinsteins have had to deal with the MPAA for two of their prestige pictures of 2010.

Not quite the NC-17 film it was rated to be

Blue Valentine and The King’s Speech were almost as famous for their fights with the MPAA early on as they were for being Oscar bait. They won for the former, lost for the latter, yet still came out with a handful of Oscars and even more nominations. And one imagines that he might be looking at another one because almost everything in this film says NC-17 and they need an R for it to get into theatres and be a more serious awards candidate. NC-17 films don’t draw, R-rated films can if given the right material.

My guess is that QT will come in right at the maximum allowable content for an R, maybe needing a slight edit here and there, but I don’t think that’ll hurt his vision in a big way. It’s easy to see where he’s going; he wants his own The Good, Bad and the Ugly and “pays homage” to some moments from classics of the genre for those with a discerning eye***.

Coming in at 168 pages, my guess is that this film is going to be found in the editing room much more so than during shooting. It’s very indulgent and I think a judicious editor would rein in QT’s habit of not cutting enough. That’s been a problem on occasion, as you could’ve cut Kill Bill into one 150 minute as opposed to nearly five hours of material between two. You could argue that Inglourious Basterds was the same way; it could’ve been closer to two as opposed to three.

Final verdict? It looks like QT has himself another winner but a lot of it depends on who he casts and how the film is edited. As much as Will Smith makes sense from a marketing point of view (or Denzel Washington for an acting one) I’d love to see Anthony Mackie as Django opposite Waltz. The guy has got some acting chops and it’d be kind of cool to see how good he could be with what could be, as has been described, as an “iconic” character. I see Smith being the one they give the role to but part of me thinks he’ll end up walking out because of “creative” differences.

I’m shocked Qt didn’t write parts for Will’s untalented kids in this film

That’s the thing I see happening because unless there’s some major changes for Smith, an actor NOTORIOUS for maintaining his image, in terms of language. I can see him not having a problem with the sheer amount of violence because he’s an action star; Bad Boys and its sequel had plenty of violence and its fair share of foul language. But there’s a difference between those and this one in terms of severity and I can’t see Smith walking into this film with this script as is. It just is almost too much for a guy who makes a point of being a role model.

That’s why someone like Anthony Mackie makes more sense, as he doesn’t have this manicured image that Will Smith does. The rest of the cast is going to be a lot of big names, my guess; Tarantino generally tends to get lots of recognizable names in his supporting names. It’s going to be advertised as an ensemble with Tarantino being more of the draw as opposed to any particular actor as the headliner, my guess.

* Or whatever it’s called … it’s almost always referenced as the “Black List” but it has some sort of unofficial long-ass title I always forget
** I would go into some detail but I’m avoiding anything that hasn’t already been published in a press release out of respect for The Weinstein Company and Tarantino. If you really want to find the screenplay online there are plenty of places it’s probably available.
*** Paying homage is the new term for “blatantly ripping off’ that has been en vogue since Tarantino pulled a George Lucas in the 1990s with Hong Kong crime films. I love Reservoir Dogs but it’s akin to City on Fire the same way Lucas cribbed heavily for Star Wars from Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVDHot Tub Time Machine

John Cusack is the sort of actor everyone loves but not for anything he’s done recently. It’s always for films like High Fidelity, Say Anything, Better Off Dead or any number of films that are older than a couple years. I’m not talking about films that are good, or masterpiece work, I’m speaking of memorable films.

It’s the difference between acknowledging it when channel surfing and then going “Con Air is on? I can stay here for a while.” Cusack is somehow loved in spite of starring in a lot of crap and occasionally he hits a home run. Most times he’s striking out missing, as well, but there is the rare double that can be classified as “perfectly acceptable film-making.”

Hot Tub Time Machine is one of these films.

I reviewed this initially in theatres and wasn’t all that impressed. I liked it enough to pick it up, mainly because I combined a gift card and a coupon to get it for dirt cheap. I’m a big enough fan of Cusack that I’d have picked it up anyways, just when the price is right, and now the price was actually right for once. Thus I picked it up and threw it in my review queue, spinning the magic dial long enough that it just popped up to watch now. It’s a fairly simple premise.

Adam (John Cusack), Nick (Craig Robinson) and Lou (Rob Corddry) are guys whose best years are behind them when Lou tries to kill himself. With Cusack’s nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) tagging along, Adam and Nick decide to take Lou up to the ski resort of their youth to cheer him up. When the hot tub they pile into ends up taking them back to the ‘80s, to a pivotal weekend of their youth, they are stuck at a fork in the road. Do they relive events exactly as they happened, to ensure the timeline from which they come from survives? Or do they try to change it for the better, to eliminate what they regretted as adults with an opportunity to pursue the more correct path they think they should’ve followed?

It’s a fairly unique premise that really doesn’t go as far as it could. A good comparison is to That ‘80s Show which came and went quickly when That ‘70s Show became popular. The latter had good writing and great stories, just happening to take place in the ‘70s, whereas the former was “Hey, there’s a cell phone” or some Miami Vice reference as opposed to having a great set of stories and merely being set up in the 1980s. Eventually there’s a story to be found, once the film gets past this indulgence into the more iconic things from the ‘80s.

Mild recommendation

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – Captain Jack (Johnny Depp) is back with some new friends, and some old, as he searches for the fountain of youth.

Skip It – Aren’t we done with the Pirates franchise? I just can’t see why there’d be a fourth film; a second and third felt a bit more excessive than anything else. How much of a story is there left to tell? I don’t think much.

Do you have questions about movies, life, love, or Branigan’s Law? Shoot me an e-mail at and you could be featured in the next “Monday Morning Critic.” Include your name and hometown to improve your odds.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @MMCritic_Kubryk.

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