"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 Monday, Sept. 1, the 244th day of 2014. There are 121 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: We are informed by J.H. Hull that the reason the street sprinkler was not at work yesterday settling the dust on the streets, was because one of his horses was injured.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Bonnie McGregor, a fleet-footed stallion owned by S.W. Wheelock of this community, covered himself with glory at Lexington, Ky, when he ran a mile in 2:13 1/2. The horse's value was estimated as at least $50,000.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Troops are pouring into Paris to prepare for defense of the city. The German army is reported to be only 60 miles from the capital of France.
1939 -- 75 years ago: The German army has invaded Poland in undeclared warfare. Poland has appealed to Great Britain and France for aid.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Publication of a plant newspaper, the Farmall Works News, has been launched at the Rock Island IHC factory and replaces a managerial newsletter.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Officials predict Monday's Rock Island Labor Parade will be the biggest and best ever. Last minute work continues on floats and costumes for the parade, which steps off a 9:30 a.m.




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