Wednesday, January 09, 2013

DJANGO UNCHAINED: My review

There’s a famous story in Hollywood about a network executive telling a writer what they were looking for that season. He said, “We want to do HOGANS HEROES but with slaves.” As absurd as that is, Quentin Tarantino sort of did it. DJANGO UNCHAINED is really INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS with slaves.

It’s not as good as INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (hard to construct a more pleasing ending than shooting then blowing up Hitler) but it’s still good Tarantino fun.

Tarantino loves making genre pictures and this time he tackled the spaghetti western. But of course with his own unique spin – so it’s really a spaghetti comedy gorefest western. Sounds like a lot to jam into one movie but when the running time is 2:45 you don’t have to do much jamming. I enjoyed DJANGO UNCHAINED but if I have one tiny quibble it’s that the film is WAY TOO FUCKING LONG. By a half hour or forty-five minutes. There’s a whole middle “bounty hunters at work” section that could be lifted in whole and no one other than Quentin fanboys would ever miss it. When thirty minutes can be replaced by one title that says: Six Months Later you know it’s not good storytelling.

But typical of Tarantino film are wonderful quirky performances. Christoph Waltz, who won an Oscar for his last QT movie, returns in another meaty role. He’s a German bounty hunter – a good guy in this one – but with a gift of gab and a goofy accent that is somewhere between Werner Klemperer and Slim Pickens.

Jamie Foxx as slave-turned-bounty hunter/action hero/munitions expert Django is fine although I can think of fifteen Will Smiths/Wesley Snipes/etc. who could have played it just as well.

Much more fun was Leo DiCaprio as the sleazy plantation owner. You could just tell that Leo was having a ball playing this dastardly character. He did everything but twiddle a mustache.

The true standout however, was Tarantino-regular Samuel L. Jackson as Leo’s house slave. The minute he comes on the screen you laugh – partly because of the role and partly because of the hilarious make up. They’ve got him looking like Uncle Remus and made him even blacker. Leave it to Tarantino though to have a completely fresh take on Uncle Tom. Sam's taking a lot of shit for it (Spike Lee thinks it’s offensive) but he doesn’t care. He knows a juicy role when he sees it.

Don Johnson appears briefly made up to look like Colonel Sanders. And in the most thankless role in the picture, poor Kerry Washington plays Django’s slave wife who he’s trying to reclaim. The sum total of her screen time is getting whipped, beaten, and thrown naked in a hole. Not what she expected I’m sure when she signed on as the love interest.

Also, if you look carefully, every western character actor still drinking sarsaparilla shows up in one scene or another. Bruce Dern is back!

Viewer beware: The “N” word is uttered more times than all the Richard Pryor stand up albums put together. And the violence does get graphic at times. This is not a film to see if you’re afraid of dogs.

But like most Tarantino movies, there’s almost a cartoon quality to it. And warning number two: He makes everyone from the South look like complete idiots. The hillbillies in JUSTIFIED are Mensa members compared to these cretins. Maybe the funniest scene in any movie this year is the KKK lynch party all bitching about their hoods.

If you view DJANGO UNCHAINED strictly as escapist entertainment and you like Quentin Tarantino you will probably dig this movie. You may even like DJANGO'S HEROES when it comes to television. 

19 comments:

MBunge said...

"But like most Tarantino movies, there’s almost a cartoon quality to it."


Won't it be a shame, though, if cartoonish is the word that ultimately describes the legacy of someone as talented as QT? I don't think he's ever recovered from the critical and commercial shrug that was given to JACKIE BROWN and worry that the best we'll ever see from him again is good but flawed stuff like BASTERDS.

Mike

Ellin said...

Virtuoso technique, witty homages, sparkling dialogue, furious action...imagine how good he'd be if he ever acquired some emotional maturity. Mike has a point - maybe the reaction to Jackie Brown (possibly my fave QT film) scared him off.

And how ironic that in a film all about outrage at treating a whole class of people as less than fully human, the writer treats a different class of people as less than fully human.

slgc said...

I saw this on Christmas, after seeing Les Miserables earlier in the day. As a result, I found Django to be totally cathartic.

In general, I can't tolerate watching bloodshed or gore. But as you said, when it comes from Tarantino it's almost cartoonish - his warped sense of humor makes it fun.

I just found this to be a fun ride (even the bounty hunter part).

Larry said...

I thought there were serious plot problems at the end. (Spoiler alert) In Inglourious Bastards, they're behind Nazi lines and it's serious. Here's, they're pulling a minor scam on a slaveholder--a scam they probably don't need to pull, and one which, when discovered, isn't even a big deal. The only reason there's trouble at the end is Southern Colonel Hans Landa suddenly has moral qualms and would rather die than make an easy deal. Then, there are thousands of shots and everyone misses Django, followed by everyone deciding to keep him alive. Then, the white slavers who take him away (including a horrible cameo from the director) are so stupid Django talks them into being killed.

Still, it was fun.

XJill said...

I'm not a QT fangirl but I loved the bounty hunter section (I mean, he used Jim Croce!!!)

Anyway, after seeing tons of 3 hours movies many days in a row (The Hobbit, ZDT and Les Mis) this one went by the quickest that's for sure.

Hoping for a nom tomorrow for either Waltz or Dicaprio.

Matt said...

I'm glad you brought up the "too long" issue. There are some long movies that don't feel long. Yet others leave you with that "isn't this over by now" uncomfortable feeling. Case in point:

BRIDESMAIDS

-and-

THIS IS 40.

Comedies like these have a 90 minute threshold and when you cross over to 91 minutes, you can absolutely feel it. When I noticed "This is 40" lagging on too long, I saw at least two other people checking their phones for the time, as in "this isn't over YET?"

As was with "Bridesmaids", there were definitely parts of "This is 40" that could've been edited out completely.

I've not seen "Django" yet, but my buddy Bryan did and that was his first reaction:

"I saw Django Unchained tonight"

"How was it?"

"Long"

Anonymous said...

BTW this was pre KKK :)

chuckcd said...

Can't wait for the HOGAN'S HEROES remake film.

Get Ewan McGregor to play Hogan.
Maybe Jack Black for General Buchalter...

Mac said...

Sounds good. I remember watching "Pulp Fiction " and at times I could hardly hear the dialogue for the audience laughing. It was getting more laughs than most other movies that are marketed as comedies.

RCP said...

Just wanted to alert you and your readers, Ken, that "Stars in Danger: The High Dive" premieres tonight on Fox.

Two of the "stars" who have been training to dive like Olympians are Real Housewives of Beverly Hills...

Chris said...

"This is 40" was too long five minutes into it.

steve said...

I know it was long, but it didn't feel that way to me. I was having fun throughout. I think it's less egrigeous to have unneeded fat at the beginning of the film (the bounty hunting section) than the end (as in say Return of the King, where there's about an hour of wind down after the main conflict is resolved).

Pete Brainard said...

Hey Ken.
You may have missed Tom Wopat (Luke Duke) and Robert Carradine (Louis Skolnik in Revenge of the Nerds) making cameos. Good call on Samuel Jackson. I think he and Leo will be up for awards. My review:
http://soulsuckingapathy.blogspot.com/2013/01/django-unchained-fun-family-romp-with.html

MikeN said...

Spike Lee never saw the movie. He isn't criticizing Samuel Jackson, he is upset they made the movie.

Anonymous said...

I was in two minds while viewing this film. Initially it was more of a comedy and most parts totally unbelievable from a black person's perspective.

The blacks had a grasp for the English language in this film tthey wouldn't have had. Sheba the mulato woman would have been more suited for the era and film, The Great Gatsby! The slaves yes they were played by blacks, but didn't look African. Django became proficient in the use of fire arms to fast and being a black bounty hunter killing whites was improbable and unbelievable.

There were only two convincing characters in this film, Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candy and Samuel L Jackson as Stephen. The only two roles l took seriously. The others were simply unbelievable not because of the acting, because of the script.

I didn't see any controversy that blacks or whites should be concerned about, It didn't raise any new issues that we didn't already know and the script lacked any real bite to cause American's to acknowledge and confront the issue of racism that still exist.

cadavra said...

I just hope Kim Novak doesn't see this, what with all the recycled music on the soundtrack (including the title song).

FWIW, those of us with more than a passing familiarity with the tropes of the Eurowestern (I think "spaghetti western" has a pejorative tinge to it) will get more out of it, especially the amusing pop-in by Franco Nero.

Finally, I didn't feel the length. Tarantino's pictures are often episodic (even down to the use of chapter titles), so each hour or so seemed like a separate movie, all of them strung together by the travels of the title character.

Beardly Mustachington said...

I may be in the minority here, but I think this is Tarantino's most mature film (writing and directing) behind only JACKIE BROWN. There are a few obvious considerations (and this starts the separation from Basterds, which I also loved). The violence against non-slaves is cartoony and often funny. The violence against slaves is brutal, traumatic, and emotional. This is held primarily in the difference in direction of these separate types of violence on screen. Quirky angles and fast moving camera on the non-slave violence. Steady, unwavering camera on the slave violence. Then there are less obvious considerations. Be honest here: Did any of you ever expect such an honest and moving trope in a Tarantino film such as the visions of Django's wife throughout? I sure didn't, and it surprised me and moved me. Sure this is a commonly used trope, but it is used sparsely enough and filmed with such beauty that it stands out and is more effective than when used in many films. I know those who've seen it may laugh, but I actually thought this was also one of Tarantino's more restrained works (outside, again, JACKIE BROWN). His biggest indulgences are likely the perhaps-too-long "who cut the eye holes" scene and the director's cameo, but I was actually surprised (once again) at what was left out.

I also walked out of the theatre thinking about the subject. For me, the film moved beyond exploitation, revisionist history, and/or spaghetti western love letter. It's effect upon me was moving. Sure, the story is funny, but laughter is based so often in discomfort, and art creates discourse. The fact that the film has raised some heckles is suiting, I think, and if it causes the viewers to discuss not just the awesome shootouts, but the subject matter, it's better for it. If the viewer is uncomfortable during some of the hateful dialog or action, then isn't this a desired effect? I walked out not thinking that I had fun (like after BASTERDS), but rather that I had experienced something and been moved.

Beyond all that, one of my favorite shots of the film is a short camera movement, a dolly behind some candles at Candy's estate, that is coupled with incredible sound design. A feast of a film, on many different levels. See it!

VP81955 said...

"But like most Tarantino movies, there’s almost a cartoon quality to it."

So in other words, he's what Frank Tashlin would have been like had he done action movies instead of Jayne Mansfield comedies.

Zach said...

I'm with Beardly. I hadn't made the connection of violence against slaves vs. violence against owners, but the mandingo wrestling scene and the dog seen where hardly cartoonish. The Mandingo wrestling scene particularly affected me. DiCaprio condescending taunting of two men locked in a death struggle was unnerving. That fight was not cartoonish, it was desperate and raw. Likewise, the dogs pulling D'Artagnan apart was gruesome. Horribly gruesome.

I think the nature of the violence was meant to be enhanced by the cartoonish nature of the other violence.