Django Unchained reviews

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Re: Django Unchained reviews

Postby Sabin » Tue Feb 26, 2013 11:13 pm

I realize as I grow older that my first impressions of films cannot entirely be trusted because my brain desperately yearns to over-analyze and wrap itself around the entirety of it long before the film itself is over. And so while Django Unchained is not by any means a great film or a very good film at all (and in fact it is a rather lazy film), there is something to be said for the primal enjoyment of the first half. At least before they arrive at Candyland. I'll risk hyperbole and just call it movie magic, but whenever Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz are on-screen together in the first half, I'm having a wonderful time. Even the stuff that I dislike like the lame-brained KKK stuff, killing off the Brittle Brothers and showing grotesque grainy-film stock flashbacks of brutality preceding (or in some cases following) bloodthirsty applause-begging vengeance enacted (awkward mix in this film), can't entirely kill my buzz. And while the Candyland scenes ultimately confirm in my mind that Tarantino really never finalized this screenplay or why who was doing what (how painfully OTN is white cake?), there is still a strange power that the scenes have even as they're veering wildly off-course. The ideas may be muddled, the dialogue may be crude, but if there's one thing Quentin Tarantino's movies possess it's conviction. And there is a power to conviction in scenes like these.

Watching it again, I find it completely understandable how Christoph Waltz won a second Oscar but it's also confusing to me. This is a wonderful character and possibly a better performance than in Inglourious Basterds. But it really is lending new shades to the same wonderful thing. This is the kind of performance that always gets overlooked in favor of flashier turns like that of Leonardo DiCaprio, whose "snub" was deserving. Samuel L. Jackson is rather brilliant.
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Re: Django Unchained reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Thu Feb 21, 2013 11:15 am

My last check-off on the best picture list, and something of a disappointment. I don't think this has near the same level of invention/thought that Inglourious Basterds did. That film had the usual level of violence/revenge, but -- through its young Nazi hero character -- expressed some ambivalence about the value of it all. Here, with the exception of the Samuel L. Jackson character (who I would like to have seen explored more), everything works on a surface level; there's nothing to ponder afterward. Even the fabled Tarantino chit-chat is of a less-inspired sort than usual (the "we can't see through the eye-holes" scene stopped the movie cold for five minutes and wasn't even particularly funny). I thought Tarantino's Basterds script was more deserving than Boal's for Hurt Locker; this time around, I feel quite the opposite about the match-up, and I'm afraid we'll get the wrong result again.

I did very much like the Christoph Waltz performance. I disagree with those who say he's doing the same thing as in Basterds; it's in fact the first time since that I felt he WASN'T doing the same thing. Clearly he could be posted as lead, but I think (SPOILER ALERT) when he meets his demise helps some people think of him as support -- it's not all that far from the film's end, but I think alot of people at least subconsciously buy the premise that the main character stays alive till more or less fadeout.

If he weren't slotted in support, might Jackson have taken the spot? And might he, the only non-winner/previous nominee, be favored? I think Jackson's character is by far the most inventive thing about the film, and he does a pretty amazing job with the role. My disappointment is with his last scene. His "relationship" to/with Django is significant enough that it merits a better resolution than the "maim 'im and kill 'im" one we get. It reinforces the idea that, even where he flirted with interesting concepts, Tarantino was really just kidding around/making an action film. And for me, after Basterds, that's a letdown.

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Re: Django Unchained reviews

Postby ITALIANO » Sat Jan 19, 2013 2:34 pm

Tarantino's tribute to Italian westerns, is, unlike those, expensive, full of important actors, and long. Very long. Leone's westerns were long (and full of important actors), too, but they were exceptions to the rule (and they had an epic quality that Tarantino could never attain) - plus, Tarantino's model isn't Leone but Sergio Corbucci, who made the original Django and other entertaining and blessedly short movies. Oh, the references are all there - and all easy to spot: the use of zoom and (especially in killings) slow motion, the heavy, almost grotesque doses of blood, the close-ups of eyes, the murky flashbacks portraying torture of various kinds. But the story is never surprising (less surprising than in those old movies), and there's too much talk - and, again, it's long, very long. Like with Inglorious Basterds, even here Tarantino takes those typically Italian revenge plots (which were mostly very individual) and apply them to a whole minority, or race - in this case the blacks. This way, he can profit from the total absence of the "politically correct" in old Italian genre movies, using words that even today seem to shock well-intentioned (but probably unconsciously racist) Americans. But after two hours and a half of talk (and the screenplay this time is less smart and witty than usual) and the trademark cartoonish violence, one - or at least I - starts wondering if Tarantino isn't becoming a bit repetitive.

The acting is good. Sanuel L. Jackson is great - he REALLY gets the right tone for such an effort, and is the only one who should have been considered for an Oscar nomination. Christoph Waltz is a talented actor, and one who obviously enjoys acting, which is always nice. But honestly, he doesn't do anything here that he didn't already do - in a more extrovert way - in that other movie. Good performance, unnecessary nomination. Jamie Foxx has the right expression for a "spaghetti western" hero - which means, no expression, most of the time. But he does it well, and the fact that you don't know much about his character is, of course, intentional. Plus, he looks a bit like Wilbert Bradley, an American dancer who came to Italy and from the early '60 started playing cliched black villains in B-movies.

Tarantino may not have thought of this. But he certainly thought of other connections - some rather useless. What's, for example, the point of calling a character Leonide Moguy? What did Moguy have to do with westerns?

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Re: Django Unchained reviews

Postby Sabin » Fri Jan 04, 2013 4:10 pm

Christoph Watlz would be more heralded as the standout if he wasn't just in Inglourious Basterds doing a broader villainous turn. I think he's wonderful. Samuel L. Jackson is the best he's been in years.
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Re: Django Unchained reviews

Postby MovieFan » Fri Jan 04, 2013 1:34 pm

How would you guys rate the performances? And in which order did you prefer them?

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Re: Django Unchained reviews

Postby anonymous1980 » Fri Jan 04, 2013 12:34 am

Johnny Guitar wrote:I think his movies can be entertaining and complex across several levels while also being puerile, ethically and politically distasteful, opportunistic, and uneven.


One can argue that that's part of his charm.

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Re: Django Unchained reviews

Postby Johnny Guitar » Thu Jan 03, 2013 9:08 pm

Big Magilla wrote:There's a sad irony in Breakfast at Tiffany's having had to wait until after Damien was gone and unable to rejoice in his favorite film's addition to the National Registry.

No one has commented on this, but Damien was listed in Entertainment Weekly's annual list of show business notables who died during the year. I think he would have been taken aback a bit though by the fact that they omitted his Columbia University professor and favorite critic, Andrew Sarris, who also passed away this year.


Well said. Though in half-defense of Tarantino, he (wrongly) dismisses Ford in favor of promoting the likes of William Witney - his cinephilia may be vulgarian at times and his politics a bit incoherent, but he does know a lot of cinema.

I felt mostly the same way toward Django Unchained that I did toward Inglourious Basterds ... it's an exhilarating film in many ways, and I think it's a shame that so many people want to reduce their reactions to QT to a single "pro" or "con" assessment. I think his movies can be entertaining and complex across several levels while also being puerile, ethically and politically distasteful, opportunistic, and uneven.

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Re: Django Unchained reviews

Postby Sabin » Thu Jan 03, 2013 1:28 am

There are other things to discuss besides the use of the word "nigger", but much of the "humor" in Django Unchained comes from laughing at lines and how the word "nigger" is used in them. Do I know for a fact that people didn't speak like this back then? No. Would I bet good money that they didn't? Yup.

It's been a while since I've seen Blazing Saddles, so I can't quote it, but the jokes I remember from the film are more than just inserting the word "nigger" in a line to make it funny. If memory serves, the word was used what? 10 times? 15? I could be wrong. A google search reveals a Drudge report that Django Unchained uses that word 109 times. That's insane. Again, it's been a while since I've seen Blazing Saddles, but if I recall there was always more to the use of the word in that film that just hearing it because it sounds funny.

Yes, it takes place in pre-Civil War America and it's about slavery. And I think that if you're going to evoke that, then you walk a fine line. I feel like my point is getting lost as I speak. It's Quentin Tarantino, so A) he loves that this discussion is happening, B) what are we to expect from him, and C) I just found one of the pleasures of Django Unchained to be dumb. And make no mistake about it, one of the pleasures of Django Unchained, one of the visible sources of enthusiasm on QT's part is dialogue laced with the word "nigger". And the way he does it, I just found stupid and problematic.
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Re: Django Unchained reviews

Postby anonymous1980 » Thu Jan 03, 2013 1:01 am

Have you not seen Blazing Saddles, Sabin?

I haven't seen Django Unchained yet but it IS a movie set in pre-Civil War America and it's about slavery. OF COURSE, "nigger" is going to be used.

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Re: Django Unchained reviews

Postby Sabin » Wed Jan 02, 2013 5:05 pm

The word "Nigger" is a goddamn supporting character in Django Unchained. I'm beyond wondering whether or not it's political correct. It's bloody well incorrect whether or not "black youths" say it. I think it's indicative of the relative emptiness of the experience.
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Re: Django Unchained reviews

Postby criddic3 » Wed Jan 02, 2013 3:59 pm

I think Tarantino uses the word so often, both as a way to disarm the word's sting and also to show that such a word would not have been seen as out of place in that time. It is a word. One that can be used as a symbolic weapon or one that can be used to empower, which is why black youth use it today among each other sometimes. I suppose we could waste our time being offended that Tarantino chooses to use the word that much, but he is as aware of this as we are. If Tarantino were known to harbor racist tendencies, maybe I could see the outrage, but to go on about how "childish" he is for wanting to use it just comes off as overly politically correct to me. I think the tone of the film helps to underscore the writer/director's intentions, and I don't think it is worth getting riled up about it.
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Re: Django Unchained reviews

Postby Sabin » Wed Jan 02, 2013 2:23 am

It is almost impossible to discuss Django Unchained without mentioning its use of the word "nigger". I have never heard that word more times in a movie in my life. I have never heard that word more times in my life. There are a lot of strong and weak aspects to Django Unchained, but yes, the use of "nigger" in Django Unchained is a problem for me because there are so many lines of dialogue that are only funny because they involve the use of the word. One of the target audiences for Django Unchained is white people who are not going to be able to wait to quote this dialogue. And this is not in the same wheelhouse as Chris Rock's "Bring the Pain" with its incredible "Black People vs. Niggers" bit. Besides the fact that the special had so much more to offer besides that one piece of comedy, there was a transgressive power to that bit that even the audience was not 100% thrilled with. "You can boo me all you like," Rock said on-stage during the recording. "You know I'm right!" Most of the dialogue in Django Unchained is just QT getting off on saying the word "Nigger". And that's juvenile! I don't think there's anything interesting to be written about QT's maturity anymore. I used to think that Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is the movie that most resembles what it looks like in Quentin Tarantino's brain. Not anymore. It's Django Unchained, and this time that's not always a great thing.

Although Jamie Foxx is mostly quite good in the film, you get the impression that Quentin Tarantino never quite got past the idea of Django as a character, never quite got past the title. There is a real charm to Django Unchained before its characters end up at Candyland (the name of Calvin Candy's plantation) and that comes largely from Christoph Waltz's performance as Dr. King Schultz. I was wary about Jamie Foxx in this role at first because I don't think very highly of the actor, but he is mostly quite good and well-suited for the role. But Waltz is delightful. This is not as showy a role as his turn in Inglourious Basterds, but he might be better here because there's a wider palette of humanity that he's playing and he's quite good at it. He looks like a cartoon chipmunk and he may officially the best actor at selling Tarantino's dialogue, the only one who can quite pull off his too cute turns of phrases, whenever a character has to say "...my fine friend" or something like that. Even though a Klan raid gone wrong feels like a lazy rehash of O' Brother, much of the first half of Django Unchained is the kind of fun where I get to turn my brain off and enjoy myself.

Then the film goes to Candyland and it runs into some problems. In order to rescue Django's beloved Brumhilda who is a servant there, Django poses as King's valet who is there to handpick him the best Mandingo fighter that Calvin Candy (DiCaprio) has to offer, and that's when Django Unchained really starts to deal (or as close as it does) with slavery. Before this part of the film, Django Unchained is about a freed slave turned bounty hunter. There is a subversive quality to this freed slave saying "Nigger", going through a power trip that he either buys into or not, and possibly loses more of his purity than his white German savior could himself endure. This is also when the film's true villain, Samuel L. Jackson's Stephen emerges. More on him in a second, but one of the things that I enjoyed about Inglourious Basterds is when that film describes itself as a fantasy, it clearly is. The Holocaust has no presence in the film. The Basterds are let by Brad Pitt and their jewry is mostly defined by Eli Roth's "Bear Jew". Melanie Laurent may be playing our Jewish heroine who runs to her freedom and opens a movie theater but...come on. Imagine if Quentin Tarantino had taken us through the camps. It would be incredibly distasteful because whatever he knows about the Holocaust doesn't really need to be put on film. That's not what he's about:

QT: "I want, like, my next movie to be about Jewish vengeance during WWII!"
ME: "Oh, cool. Tell me more..."
QT: "It's going to star Brad Pitt..." (ALL I NEED TO KNOW)

But Django Unchained depicts ugly slavery stereotypes, bombards the audience with the word "Nigger", and gives us ugly, ugly people using it. The defense of "Well, only shitty people use that word" doesn't sit well either because Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz use it too. Whether or not they're just "playing a part" doesn't quite hold water because we're meant to question if Jamie Foxx has gone too far into his power trip with how he uses that word -- which is to say that if the word "Nigger" is being used as litmus test for moral character, then Quentin Tarantino who has written all of this dialogue and clearly finds the use of the word hilarious fails it more than anybody! I don't think this necessarily discredits the film as entertainment but it just fundamentally strikes me as fratty.

As Tarantino movies are now all about, once the film goes to Candyland, we're treated to one set-piece of gab after another punctuated by demonstrative violence. Logic starts to fall by the wayside and it starts to resemble just as much a dollhouse as any Wes Anderson movie. What bolsters much of the second half of the film for me is the presence of Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen. Django Unchained is meant to shock as it entertains. Nothing is as shocking as the figure most associated with what makes Quentin Tarantino cool turned into this ugly of a character. Stephen, The House Slave, bent-over, a traitor to his people, full of glowering malevolence. I have a problem with mismatched final battles and there is a "too late for this to feel organic" quality to an ideological showdown between Django and Stephen, especially because Calvin is too much whippersnapper to be posed as a legitimate rival. The closest Django Unchained comes to asking a moral question is when Django and QT lays judgment on Stephen for never lifting a finger to help his people as they marched in and out of the house. The film treats it as a joke and a personal reckoning, so ultimately the film undercuts what a truly unbelievable thing it is to see Jackson in this role. He has little chance of being nominated, but it's the best thing the actor has done in ages.

...good enough place to stop for now.
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Re: Django Unchained reviews

Postby OscarGuy » Thu Dec 27, 2012 7:09 am

You almost have to wonder if Damien's energy is part of what influenced the National Registry to select Tiffany's this year.
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Re: Django Unchained reviews

Postby Big Magilla » Thu Dec 27, 2012 2:57 am

I think Spike Lee has already ripped motor mouth Tarantino a new one over Django Unchained. Critic Glenn Kenny had this to say: "Mr. Tarantino's view on John Ford is about as intellectually coherent as, well, DJANGO UNCHAINED."

There's a sad irony in Breakfast at Tiffany's having had to wait until after Damien was gone and unable to rejoice in his favorite film's addition to the National Registry.

No one has commented on this, but Damien was listed in Entertainment Weekly's annual list of show business notables who died during the year. I think he would have been taken aback a bit though by the fact that they omitted his Columbia University professor and favorite critic, Andrew Sarris, who also passed away this year.

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Re: Django Unchained reviews

Postby anonymous1980 » Thu Dec 27, 2012 12:58 am

There are times when I truly miss Damien. One is the news that Breakfast at Tiffany's is gonna be in the National Film Registry. And the other is this:

Quentin Tarantino hates John Ford.

I love Tarantino both as a filmmaker as a cinephile. But he's dead wrong in this one. I would LOVE to have seen Damien tear him a new one on this. :lol:


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