Django Unchained (2012)

Django Unchained (2012) – There is a musician that performs under the name Girl Talk. What he does is creates new songs composed entirely of samples of other songs. Yet what he creates manages to be something new. Quentin Tarantino is one hundred percent the cinematic version of that and, as Entourage pointed out, “Tarantino only steals from the best.” The 1966 spaghetti western Django is a violent little gem beloved by a fans of the genre (and hey, I just reviewed it!) that spawned over thirty unofficial sequels. These “sequels” basically have nothing in common except there are all spaghetti westerns about or in some way relating to a dude named Django. One of the more recent ones was a bizarre Japanese flick by Takashi Miike called Sukiyaki Western Django (hey, I just reviewed it!) that also featured the participation (as an actor) of one Mr. Quentin Tarantino. Now it fits that if Quentin is going to finally make an all-out spaghetti western (Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds already had a lot of elements of the genre) then why not name the hero Django? That’s just how QT works.

The film begins the same way Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 film did: with a trek across the desert set to the soaring sounds of Luis Bacalov’s theme song (unsurprisingly called “Django”). Instead off a lone man dragging a coffin, we get the Speck brothers (James Russo and James Remar) on horseback leading a group of chained-up slaves. They run across a traveling dentist named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) who is looking to procure one particular slave from the Speck… Django (Jamie Foxx). After some *ahem* “negotiation,” Schultz and Django set out to find the Brittle brothers (M.C. Gainey, Doc Duhame, Cooper Huckabee). You see Schultz is a bounty hunter and while he despises slavery, he needs Django because Django can identify the Brittles. Django is only too eager to bring the Brittles to violent justice since they whipped, abused, and branded Django and his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). They track them to the plantation of Big Daddy (Don Johnson, playing even more racist than he did in Machete) and after that Schultz decides to train Django to become a bounty hunter, and to help him get his wife back from deranged Francophile plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Of course Candie has a house slave named Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson looking like a live action version of Grandad from The Boondocks) who knows that Schultz and Django are up to something…

Okay, I want to get to my one big problem with this movie: the iconic coffin from the Corbucci film and its deadly contents aren’t in it! Not that the movie particularly suffers from this omission, I just see the title Django Unchained and I want to see that coffin dammit! Okay, film geek bitching aside, this movie is a whole lot of fun. You got to be prepared for graphic violence (obviously), not all of which is the fun over-the-top spaghetti western kind. Some of it a brutal reminder of the darkest chapter of American history. Mostly, however, the movie isn’t interesting in dwelling on the grim. Also be prepared to hear a certain racial slur. A LOT. Spike Lee heavily criticized Tarantino’s use of that word in Pulp Fiction… his head would explode if he ever watched this one. (He won’t, though.) There is a lot of funny stuff in this movie, particularly in a scene with Johnson, Jonah Hill, and some very confused proto-Klansmen. The cast all-around is pretty great. Foxx is the best kind of tough and taciturn western antihero. Waltz, on the other hand, is phenomenal and is getting the most out of Tarantino’s wonderful dialogue as a garrulous fellow who can and does talk his way out of almost everything. DiCaprio delves into the repellent role of Calvin Candie enthusiastically and gives the movie the villain it needs. Jackson also takes a role that could be problematic in a lesser actor’s hands (and in a lesser writer’s too) and turns it into a part you just can’t take your eyes off of. Also, with comparatively little screen time, Kerry Washington sells you on Broomhilda being worth risking everything for. Tarantino himself has a small part, doing an abominable Australian accent. Some people would say this detracts from the movie, but QT has never been about verisimilitude. Like all QT movies, Django Unchained screams “THIS IS A MOVIE” from start to finish, and is better for it. Spotting the director cameo is just part of the fun. Previous Tarantino actors Michael Parks, James Parks, Michael Bowen, Zoë Bell, and Tom Savini all pop up as well as character actors like Walton Goggins, Robert Carradine, Tom Wopat, Bruce Dern, and FRANCO FUCKING NERO, the original Django! I feel like at this point everyone knows what to expect from a Quentin Tarantino movie. He’s put his own spins on gangster movies, the French New Wave, Blaxploitation, kung fu flicks, slasher movies and car flicks (in the same movie!), and World War II “men on a mission” flicks. I think anyone familiar with his body of work will know exactly what to expect and love it.

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