"Django" a pre-Civil War cousin of "Inglourious Basterds"


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Posted Online: Dec. 27, 2012, 10:38 am
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By Steven Rea

Neck-deep into Quentin Tarantino's antebellum western "Django Unchained," I had this mental image of the uber-geek genre filmmaker tapping furiously on his laptop, beaming at the brilliance of every new piece of dialogue he's writ.

For all I know, Tarantino works on a typewriter, or longhand on a legal pad (or dictates his copy to a Gal Friday in spike heels), but in any event, as the banter ping-ponged across the dining table in the plantation mansion of slave-master Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio, twirling his mustache), with Jamie Foxx (in the title role), Christoph Waltz (as a winking bounty hunter), Kerry Washington (the slave girl Django has come to rescue), and Samuel L. Jackson (Candie's slave majordomo) all taking their turns, the endless, over-the-top badinage really started to bug me.

Tarantino has done this before (Sydney Tamiia Poitier and her gal pals gabbing away in "Death Proof," the lengthy bar scene in "Inglourious Basterds"), and it really doesn't make for great cinema, despite what Tarantino may think. Less is more, dude.

But then again, if you're going to pay homage to "Mandingo" and pre-Eastwood spaghetti westerns and blaxploitation pics and Sam Peckinpah, and maybe a little John Ford, too, economy is not going to be the driving concern.

"Django Unchained" tells the tale of a stoic slave, his back crosshatched with whip scars, who is offered his freedom if he helps a German-born bounty hunter track down an infamous band of brothers with whom Django has had firsthand experience.

"I kill white people and get paid for it?" Django says, listening to this proposition. "What's not to like?"

Foxx is the straight man in all this, bringing dignity and dash to the proceedings, while Waltz, who nabbed a supporting-actor Oscar for his portrayal of a zealous SS officer in "Inglourious Basterds," gets to steal another show with his gentlemanly elocution and dangerous panache. Like "Inglourious Basterds," too, "Django Unchained" is big on the N-word. Not "Nazi, but the other one, which, befitting a narrative set in the pre-Civil War South, is uttered often, with contempt.

Tonally, like "Inglourious Basterds" again, "Django Unchained" is all over the place. It's a fight to convey genuine emotion, or genuine "anything, when every scene smacks of archness, tipping its Stetson to other movies, other eras. Tarantino lines up a parade of his B-movie icons to show their faces: Don Johnson, Bruce Dern, Michael Parks, Franco Nero, Russ Tamblyn, Lee Horsley, Robert Carradine, and it's impossible not to get into some of the cameos, some of the stunts.

And when Foxx's Django shows up dressed like Gainsborough's "Blue Boy," in the guise of a "black slaver" advising Waltz's Dr. Schultz on his purchases, it's fine and dandy stuff. Ditto some of the jokes (DiCaprio's Candie is an avowed Francophile, but he doesn't speak French; Waltz's bounty hunter is also a dentist, and his wagon is topped with a giant molar).

Is "Django Unchained" about race and power and the ugly side of history? Only as much as "Inglourious Basterds" was about race and power and the ugly side of history. It's a live-action, heads-exploding, shoot-'em-up cartoon. Sometimes it crackles, and sometimes it merely cracks.




'DJANGO UNCHAINED'


MPAA rating: R for violence, profanity, adult themes
Length: 165 minutes
Verdict: 2 1/2 stars















 



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  Today is Tuesday, Oct. 21, the 294th day of 2014. There are 71 days left in the year.

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1889 -- 125 years ago: Apparatus arrived for drilling an artesian well on the premises of George Warner's Atlantic Brewery.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The German army continued its attacks on the allies line near the Belgian coast.
1939 -- 75 years ago: The farm home of Mr. and Mrs. Gus Zachert northwest of Buffalo Prairie, burned to the ground.
1964 -- 50 years ago: WVIK-FM, noncommercial educational radio station at Augustana College, will return to the air tomorrow. The station operates at a power of 10 watts at 90.9 megacycles on the frequency modulation band. The station is operated with a staff of 92 students.
1989 -- 25 years ago: An avenue of lights, 13 Christmas trees strung with more than 44,000 sparkling lights, will expand the Festival of Trees beyond the walls of RiverCenter in downtown Davenport in mid-November.


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