Django Unchained

Woke up this morning, had a nice breakfast with the wife, exchanged presents with my Brother Rich, and then headed over to the Rosen Home for a Christmas party. It was my Godson’s first XMAS! After this, we decided to end the night with something special and headed to the movies! Django Unchained was on the menu….

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The first thing that must be mentioned is that the theater was PACKED. Not an empty seat in the house, which makes me deliriously happy. There are few experience that match seeing a well crafted film on the big screen, and if this can be called anything, it is a well crafted film.
I must start by letting you know that I am certainly inclined to enjoy Quentin Tarantino films. I can easily say that if I were to make a “favorite films” list, at least 6 of his 9 films (5 of 8 depending on how you categorize the Kill Bill duology) would be included. Several of them in the top tier.
Tarantino has lost nothing as he ages. He has stated that he sees himself retiring young to avoid the downward slide in quality that many filmmakers experience. Most Directors have this problem. A select few, the greats, never lose their ability to craft superior films. I truly believe that Tarantino is in this class.
Django Unchained is the tale of a freed slave who learns the Bounty Hunting profession and goes on a quest to free his wife from the villainous Calvin Candie, slave owner….monster.

As in his last film, Tarantino took the name of an older film for re-use. Inglorious Bastards became Inglorious Basterds, and Django became Django Unchained. “Django” was one of the better Spaghetti Westerns of the 60’s. Following it’s success, it became a fad to make westerns starring “Django” as the hero. None of these films really tied together, other than the title character. They featured different actors, situations, many were terrible, a few watchable. The attraction was that Django was famous for being one of the most violent films up to that point in time (before Bonnie and Cydle, The Wild Bunch). What makes it important is not that it is gratuitous, but how is it done, and the shock of it in a film- something Tarantino has mastered at this point. He could make you feel happy, sad, orgasmic, or scared shitless just with a blood splatter. It was an obvious choice for Tarantino to make his own Django.

The cast, as always, was perfectly put together, utilizing some previous talent (The great Zoe Bell, Michael and James Parks, and others) to round out the characters.

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Django is played by Jaime Foxx, who was perfection in a role that could have been tricky to pull off. This role was initially offered to Will Smith who turned it down. This was for the best I think, Smith maintains a very guarded image of himself, and this film does not fit that image. Foxx, steps in and makes it his own. Django is strong, vulnerable, vicious, absolutely believable, especially when he is acting. The only elements standing in his way as the best thing in the film are… the three supporting actors.

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This might be DiCaprio’s best role. He has long since escaped the teenie bopper hell that seemed fated for him, and has grown into one of the best actors around. This is the first film that he is entirely, COMPLETELY evil as Calvin Candie. His scenes are tremendous. This is an actor at the top of his game.

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Despite DiCaprio’s mastery Christoph Waltz again steals the show, this time as Dr. Schultz, the Bounty Hunter who frees Django and helps him on the quest to free his wife.

I can’t quite put my finger on what makes this man awesome. If I could identify it, and bottle it, I would be quite wealthy. I have seen 5 of his 6 films since becoming famous after Basterds. The only answer I can reason for his success is “HE IS THAT…DAMN…GOOD” He can turn absolutely any line into perfection. I don’t know what is training is, how he prepares for roles, or anything on his methods, but he has found the ideal path toward his character work. This is the actor Tarantino has been looking for his whole career I think… after the other one he found 20 years ago that is.

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Samuel L. Jackson. The most prolific actor of our age. He usually pops up in Tarantino’s productions. I did not, in a million years, expect him to appear in Django as Uncle Remus from “Song of the South”. It was a genius move by Quentin, and a fantastic performance by Jackson. Not his best, that is reserved for Pulp Fiction or Unbreakable, but this is up there.

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Kerry Washington plays Django’s wife Broomhilda Von Shaft (seriously that’s her name). She is a terrific actress that does not have all that much to do in the film. She is the McGuffin, the prize, the object that moves this story forward. As such, there is not a whole heck of a lot to do other than give the other actors something to react to. Despite this, she does a great job with what is given her.
Honorable mentions goes out to Don Johnson who has one of the best scenes in the film as “Big Daddy”, and to Tarantino himself who makes a cameo appearance.
Nothing need be said about the writing. Tarantino is known for his dialogue in particular and this film is not lacking his usual ability. It is heightened by the presence of first rate actors.

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The Cinematography was by Robert Richardson. He is best known for his work with Oliver Stone (Platoon, wall street, JFK etc), Scorsese (Casino Shutter Island) and Tarantino (Kill Bill, Basterds) He knows exactly what Tarantino wants, and delivers it. The beautiful vistas of the West are magic in the hands of a skilled cinematographer, and Richardson brings the magic.
The music choices, as always, elevate Tarantino’s films. What really stands out is the use of the original Django theme song by Luis Bacalov! Hearing that right off the bat, as the opening them to THIS DJANGO,  I realized that I would not be let down on this front. One of my favorite Jim Croce songs made an appearance in its entirety, and I was even more impressed when I read the credits- “Ancora Qui” by Ennio Morricone and Elisa. Ennio M_F_ing Morricone! I know Tarantino has been trying to get an original piece, if not an entire score by “il maestro” without success. I am glad to see him finally nab a song.
There is not much else to say about Django without ruining the film, so I will stop.

Now, how does this fit on my “Tarantino List”?
1: Inglorious Basterds
2: Pulp Fiction
3: Reservoir Dogs
4: Django Unchained
5: Kill Bill 2
6: Kill Bill 1
7: Jackie Brown
8: Four Rooms
9: Death Proof

I will be honest, there is barely a HAIR’S width of difference between the top 6 listed above. Bottom line:

Go see Django Unchained

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