"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 Thursday, July 31, the 212th day of 2014. There are 153 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: A corps of surgeons now occupies the new hospital quarters at the Garrison Hospital on the Rock Island Arsenal. A fence has been installed to enclose the prison hospital.
1889 -- 125 years ago: B. Winter has let a contract to Christ Schreiner for a two story brick building with a double store front on the south side of 3rd Avenue just west of 17th Street. The estimated cost was $4,500.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Germany sent simultaneous ultimatums to Russia and France, demanding that Russia suspend mobilization within 12 hours and demanding that France inform Germany within 18 hours. In the case of war between Germany and Russia, France would remain neutral.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Civil service offices at the post office and the Rock Island Arsenal were swamped as more than 700 youths sought 15 machinist apprenticeships at the Arsenal.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Last night, American Legion Post 246 in Moline figuratively handed over the trousers to a female ex-Marine and petticoat rule began. Olga Swanson, of Moline, was installed as the first woman commander of the post .
1989 -- 25 years ago: The Illinois Quad City Civic Center captured the excitement and interest of a convention of auditorium managers this weekend in Reno, Nev. Bill Adams, civic center authority chairman, said the 10,000-seat arena planned for downtown Moline has caught the eye of construction firms, suppliers, management teams and concession groups.








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