Sunday, December 30, 2012

Tarantino's New Revenge Flick is Bloody Good Fun: Our Review of "Django Unchained" (2012)


Directed By: Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds) 

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson

Rating: R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity

Run Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes

Synopsis: A bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz (Waltz) tracks down a frees a slave named Django (Foxx) to help him hunt down the Brittle Brothers. Once that's done, Schultz agrees to make Django his full-time partner and to help him free his wife from the clutches of the evil plantation owner, Calvin Candie (DiCaprio).

REVIEW


Andrew: Hello readers! Last night Sarah and I braved a snow storm to hit up the local AMC and catch Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Django Unchained, starring Jamie Foxx (Horrible Bosses), Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds), Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception) and Samuel L. Jackson (The Avengers).

The film is about a slave named Django who is bought by a bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz, who needs Django to help track down a few bounties. After finding that Django is quite good at bounty hunting, Schultz agrees to free Django, make him his full partner and help track down Django’s wife, Broomhilda, who has been sold to an evil plantation owner named Calvin Candie, played by DiCaprio.

It’s been making a bit of waves because of it’s liberal use of the N-word, because of Tarantino’s revisionist take on American slavery, and because of Tarantino’s classic stylized violence. That said, we’ve been looking forward to this film for quite some time and now that we’ve seen it, what did you think, Sarah?

Sarah: Well just from what I’ve seen of Tarantino’s filmography, which is pretty much just the two Kill Bill films and the first half of Reservoir Dogs, it seems like this one is pretty on par with the way he likes to do filmmaking. He seems to like his cameos in his own movies, doesn’t he?

But I really liked this movie! I LOVED Christoph Waltz. I’ve only ever seen him in Water for Elephants, which didn’t impress me, but I really liked him here.

Christoph Waltz (left), who won an Oscar for his role as Hans Landa in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, scores another fantastic role as the bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz. Might another Oscar be in his future?

A: What about him did you like so much?

S: I honestly don’t quite know! I think it’s just because he’s kind of a good guy. He’s a German living in America and he makes it very apparent that it hates the slavery thing, but for being a bounty hunter he really has a soft side to him. I don’t know, I just really liked him! He kind of plays the fun, smiling German who’s really a lethal killer.

I’m not always a huge fan of Jamie Foxx, I think he’s kind of monotone sometimes, though I haven’t seen Ray, which he won an Academy Award for, so I can’t compare it to that. But I really enjoyed him in this. You know, he doesn’t really have a lot to say but when Django does say things they’re very colorful and very entertaining! He’s kind of a bad ass!

A: Kind of a badass?

S: He’s REALLY badass. So I liked Django Unchained, even though I found myself wondering halfway through where all the blood was. But it shows up, and it showed up in full force and ended up being quite impressive.

Yeah…I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I loved seeing Leonardo DiCaprio outside of his comfort zone.

A: That was actually going to be my next question.

S: Yeah...Leo’s pretty crazy in this. And Sam Jackson? To me it felt very typical Sam Jackson. Not that that’s a bad thing. But Leo plays a GOOD slimy character; a good Southern plantation owner.

It was very interesting, cuz the whole movie is pretty stylized. The bright colors are very accentuated among the browns and sandy backgrounds of the scenery. But yeah, this is a cool movie. I can’t wait to own this one on DVD someday. Sorry, I’m ranting a little bit, what did you think?

A: I absolutely loved it. I’ll preface this by saying that I’m a big Tarantino fan. I took a Tarantino film class in college and I think Inglourious Basterds is a modern masterpiece that got jobbed at the Oscars when The Hurt Locker won Best Picture over it.

So I was very excited for Django Unchained because not only was it the follow-up to Inglourious Basterds but I’ve been hearing it’s in the same sort of vein and had a similar tone. For as much as Inglourious Basterds is about a group of Jewish soldiers specifically trying to kill Nazis, I thought it was interesting that QT wanted to tackle another revenge flick, this time about a freed slave who is granted the chance to kill white people.

Especially when it gets to Django trying to free his wife, Broomhilda, who is played by Kerry Washington (ABC’s Scandal) from Leo’s sadistic plantation owner…

S: Yeah, they Django and Schultz have to finagle their way into Candie’s plantation, which is affectionately referred to as “Candyland.”

A: Right. So I was excited for this and I was not disappointed one iota. Like you said, Christoph Waltz is phenomenal. You know, he won an Oscar for playing Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds, and I guarantee you he will be nominated for an Oscar again for this film.

S: In a supporting role?

A: Yes, which is the category he won his Oscar in. He’s already been nominated for and/or won a number of awards for this role already.

S: He’s a great actor! He was a great find by Tarantino.

A: Now, Waltz is going to have some competition for supporting actor awards…

S: Oh for sure! Because I think that Leonardo DiCaprio totally deserves to get nominated, too, because he’s REALLY good here!

A: That’s exactly what I was about to say. Waltz does a good job and I can definitely see him winning it, but Leo is…

S: He’s amazing!

A: It’s SO fantastic to see him play a bad guy, and a Tarantino bad guy at that because he is just LIVING it up.

I have two favorite scenes with Leo’s Calvin Candie. One is a scene where his entourage, including Django and Schultz, are headed to Candyland and they come across one of his slaves that has tried to escape and has been caught. Candie kind of taunts the slave about his worthiness and Django kinda calls him out on his taunting, then Candie gives an order to have the slave ripped apart by his dogs, and then gets right up in Django’s face and they just look at each other…

S: They never break eye contact.

A: And the look in Leo’s eyes was just cold. So that was a great scene for him. The other scene I loved was the dinner scene at Candyland.

S: It’s funny, because Candie surrounds himself with slaves and it turns out that his closest advisor is black, his mistress is black, and you know…from the outside it seems like he’s friendly and has a good repertoire with his slaves. But it’s just thinly veiling the sadistic and evil person he really is, because most of his slaves have a general fear of him. And that’s because he’s ruthless.

A: We should also mention that, as far as we know, while Leo’s character grows some cotton, his specialty is “Mandigo fighting” which means he buys slaves and has them fight other owners’ slaves for entertainment and profit. So that’s another layer to his character.

But what I loved about Leo is during the dinner scene, which I want to talk about in depth a little later, at one point Leo slams his hand down on the table and cuts his hand open.

S: Yeah! What does he slam his hand down on to cut himself?

A: I think it was one of those little glasses they were either drinking out of or served salt in, I’m not sure. Regardless, that actually happened. It wasn’t supposed to happen, but Leo really did slam his hand down and cut his hand on a glass and kept going through the scene without breaking character.

S: So that was his blood during the whole scene?

A: Yeah, that was really his blood.

S: No way!!!

Leonardo DiCaprio seems like he's having a blast playing the sadistic plantation owner Calvin Candie, and
we had a blast watching him have a blast. One of the best villains in a long time.

A: I would assume so, because they did numerous takes but then he cut himself during one of them and that’s the one that’s in the final film cut. So…he’s a pro. I don’t know if saying he’s a revelation is the right term, but it’s revelatory to see him do something like this…

S: And not be playing the hero or a good guy. Yeah…

A: Some other things real quick – I thought Jamie Foxx was really good as Django. Did you know that Tarantino wrote the role with Will Smith in mind but turned down the role? Did you know that’s who Tarantino originally wanted?

S: Ugh! That would’ve been awful! It would’ve been AWFUL with Will Smith!

A: I don’t know if it would have been awful, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as good because Foxx OWNS the role. From start to finish, he owns the role.

S: He IS Django. Ugh, yeah, Will Smith would not have been good. His voice especially would have bothered me

A: Yeah, because Foxx has a perfect voice and demeanor for the role.

S: Why didn’t Will Smith want to do it?

A: Why do you think? He’s Will Smith, he’s all about his brand. He actually has a formula that he and his agent use to calculate which roles he should take that will be the best for his brand.

So Foxx should be very thankful that Smith turned this down, because he’s fantastic in it. Foxx actually has my favorite line in the whole film, and this is a good example of how I don’t think Smith would have worked as well. It’s a scene where during a shoot-out, a bad guy gets shot and yells, “DeJango, you black sonofab*tch!” And Jamie Foxx so coolly responds with, “The D is silent, hillbilly,” and then shoots him again. There is NO WAY Will Smith would’ve been able to pull that off the same way.

S: Not without it sounding like the Fresh Prince or just being completely wrong!

A: Jamie Foxx is perfect as Django. There's no other way around it.

S: It’s honestly his voice that makes it for me. That’s pretty much his regular voice, he’s very soft-spoken and it really works for the character.

A: I also loved how intense his eyes are…

S: His physique…

A: He has a saunter about him that’s great, too.

S: Yeah, so…Will Smith would’ve been the wrong choice. I think Tarantino…I think that turned out to be his saving grace, because who he wanted would’ve been wrong and who he ended up with turned out to be perfect.

A: Exactly. Moving on to something else, I thought the music was great…

S: The music was fantastic!

A: In true Tarantino fashion it’s an eclectic mix of older songs and contemporary songs…

S: Mixed in with some orchestral interludes, too. But it’s not really period piece specific, which I liked.

A: And this is Tarantino’s take at making a Western. He wanted to make a legit Western, even though it’s set in the South for the most part. But so this is his spaghetti western. Now, you didn’t know this, but this movie is inspired by an old spaghetti western called Django and that film’s star has a cameo as the guy in the club whom Candie is having a Mandingo fight against. So this is kind of a homage to those kinds of films, like Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

S: Oh, okay!

A: So this is Tarantino’s homage to that film genre, and using some of the same kind of music that would’ve been used in those films, including using some of Ennio Moriconne’s music. But he also uses contemporary songs…

S: Yeah, there are a few hip-hop songs in there, too! It’s pretty badass.

A: All the music fits. It’s very QT. And then I loved the script. Tarantino has always been known for his loquacious and wordy scripts, for better and for worse.

S: I didn’t think this was very wordy, though.

A: Well like how Schultz has a pretty big vocabulary, to the point that some characters tell him to speak English even though he is. But it’s more that QT is very dialogue driven, almost to the point where he’s focused more on the dialogue than anything else in his scenes. But I think as he’s aged he’s been able to balance things out more.

One of the best things about Inglourious Basterds is the script, and when we watch it someday soon here, you’ll see that it’s very similar to how Schultz has a lot of back and forth dialogue with Candie or Django.

S: It’s interesting, like…I’m really starting to have an appreciation for specific directors; I’m starting to get into the rhythm of certain directors’ styles. Like Tarantino, even after only seeing some of his filmography I feel like I could pick his stuff out of a lineup. Like the Coen Bros., you can pick their stuff out of a lineup, too.

A: That’s good! I’m glad you’re starting to pick up on things like that. Now here’s another thing about Tarantino that I know you already know – he loves to tell his stories in a non-linear fashion.

S: Yes!

A: This movie isn’t like that all.

S: It’s really not. He does a couple of flashbacks…

A: But for the most part is completely straightforward, which is different for him but it totally works here.

S: It does, and I think for a western? I think it’s appropriate. I think this was a sacrifice he was going to have to make, though I doubt he thought of it as a sacrifice.

Okay, there were a couple of things that bothered me.

A: Like?

S: The makeup is awful.

A: The makeup?

S: Django has a scar across one of his eyes and the lines of the makeup used to create it are extremely clear.

A: I honestly never noticed it.

S: Well I did. You should have, because we watch enough Face Off [Editor’s note: The SyFy reality competition show, not the John Woo film] that you should notice stuff like that. It was particularly bad in the close-up shots when I could see the color differentiation.

I thought Sam Jackson’s old age makeup was horrific, because he plays an older guy and it’s awful.

A: Again, for the kind of movie they’re trying to make, it didn’t bother me so much.

S: True. Um…the deaths of certain characters bothered me. There was one death that really made me upset. I don’t want to spoil it, but it really bugged me. It also bothered me that they used James Remar to play two totally different character. There were things like that…I don’t know.

A: Fair enough. I did want to ask you about the pacing of the film. It runs about two and a half hours, did you feel it was a little long at all?

S: I did feel it was a little long, um…I did, yes. The pacing? I liked it towards the beginning but then about three-fourths of the way through I feel that something that happens kind of stops the move dead in its tracks.

A: I agree with you, the movie kind of changes at the point you’re referencing.

S: It does, the movie changes and I think that’s what bothers me. Obviously it was to get the ending the film has, but at the same time I felt like they could have gone about it a better way.

A: I think the movie would have been better had they wrapped up the main storyline better, yeah. The movie itself is kind of told in four acts. The first is Schultz getting Django and them finding the Brittle Brothers to get their bounty, then act two is Schultz and Django spend a winter working together just rounding up bounties, act three is them going to Candyland and act four is after Candyland. I think we can agree that the fourth act could have been better resolved along with act three.

Jamie Foxx knocks it out of the park as the freed slave turned bounty hunter, Django. Originally written to
be played by Will Smith, it can't be overstated how much the film would suffer without Foxx's cool portrayal.

S: Yes. I mean, I like how they eventually wrap up the final act, but it’s the time between the end of act three and the end of act four that bugged me. I mean, Tarantino has a cameo during that time and he’s Australian for some reason. I don’t know, it was weird.

A: So I asked you about the pacing because this is the first movie that Tarantino has made without his long-time editor, Sally Menke. She had edited all of his movies up until her sudden death two years ago.

S: Oh that’s sad.

A: Yeah. So this was his first movie without her, and I know some critics have said they feel there are some things that could have been edited down, that maybe if she had still been around those scenes wouldn’t have been so long-winded.

S: Maybe, but I think some of his other stuff is a little long-winded, too.

A: For me, I completely agree with you that when the change between acts three and four occurs, I don’t think Menke would have changed that much. I also didn’t really have a problem with the pacing. At no point was I bored. Yes, the tone of the movie changed, but that’s not an editing thing. It’s a two and a half hour movie and at no point did I think, “Hey, this is long movie.” I was so into it that maybe I just never noticed, but there it is.

S: I didn’t think it was long. I was surprised by its length, but it didn’t feel super long until the end, to me. But it wrapped up and ended well. I just think it should have happened a little sooner.

A: I have one more thing I want to talk about, and again, it’s one of the reasons I love Inglourious Basterds. I don’t know how Tarantino does it but in his last film there are three very particular scenes that are so tense that it’s worth it to see just for those. And Django Unchained has one particular scene, the dinner scene, where the entire time my heart was pounding because I had no idea how it was going to end and I was concerned for our protagonists.

S: Really?!

A: Yeah. They set it up and the entire time we know what the deal is and then Sam Jackson’s character, Steven, starts to catch on to what Django and Schultz are up to, and that’s when I started to get really worried and tensed up because I had no idea where they were going to go with it.

Somehow, and I can’t quite place my finger on it, but QT had me really worried and into it and had my heart beating fast the whole time.

S: I noticed you getting antsy during that scene!

A: Yeah, so that was something I loved about the film. It was reminiscent of how tense we were watching Argo’s climactic scene, except this scene is a little bit longer.

S: Interesting! There is a lot of blood in this movie…

A: But again it’s stylized. It’s over the top to the point where it’s not realistic.

S: Yes, it gets pretty ridiculous at points.

A: Did you notice the repeated theme of blood shedding over white things?

S: Oh yeah! Like blood on cotton, or blood on a white horse…

A: Exactly.

S: Interesting! I like that! We haven’t talked about the heavy use of the N-word, with a fair amount of it used in its original derogatory meaning.

A: What did you think of the heavy usage of that word?

S: I felt like it was very period specific.

A: So you didn’t have a problem with it?

S: Not really. Should I have?

A: Because that’s a big part of the conversation with this movie. Do you think it’s…not bad, necessarily, but a lot of the used word is used for comedic effect. Do you think it’s weird that we were laughing along with it or do you think it’s a testament to the writing and to the film itself? I totally believe it was supposed to be used for comedic effect in a lot of spots…

S: It’s definitely used for comedic effect.

A: But the thing is a lot of those funny moments are Jamie Foxx or Samuel L. Jackson using the word.

S: What I liked about it is that the word isn’t to be used today, but in the movie tons of the white characters use it and that its very period specific. I don’t think it makes us bad people. It’s a movie.

A: I think as long as people aren’t using the word TODAY, then let the movie be. It’s not a big deal unless people make a big deal out of it.

Okay, so final thoughts on Django Unchained?

S: I definitely think this is a movie that needs to be seen in theatres. If you’re a Tarantino fan, obviously go see it.

A: I think it’s a perfect partner film to Inglourious Basterds and it’s definitely one of the year’s best. This was some of the most fun we’ve had at the theatre in a long time.

S: I completely agree with that.

FINAL VERDICT: We will definitely own this on Blu-ray one day!

(Individual Scores - S: 4.5/5  A: 5/5)

4 comments:

  1. Glad to see you two loved it! Right on top with a couple other films as my favorite of the year. Wasn't too bloody for you Sarah? lol

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    1. Pssh! Too bloody? C'mon, Nick!

      And thank you for your kinds words! lol

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  2. Great review. I had no idea Leo actually cut his hand when he slammed it down on the table. Holy shit is that ever intense.

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    1. Thanks bud! Yeah, that's his real blood, which means he totally improvised that whole wiping his bloody hand on Kerry Washington's face thing. Gotta imagine that look of shock on her face is legit.

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