Sunday, January 6, 2013

Rated D - Django Unchained

My name is Django... the D is silent... Unfortunately for you... this D is not...

Welcome Back to Rated D!

This week I put on my poncho and sat down in the spatter section to check out the new film "Django Unchained".  SPOILER ALERT:  A bounty hunter teams up with a freed slave to get his wife back from a sadistic plantation owner.

Remember old the days of cinema when the “good guy” would kick, punch, and shoot his way through dozens of henchmen only to come face to face with his nemesis and say, “You’re not worth it”…?  Yeah, it’s safe to say those days are dead and who better to give the eulogy than Quentin Tarantino in his fourth installment in the “Merciless Revenge Series”.  After two films about a betrayed bride hacking her way through her enemies to “kill Bill” and one about a group of Jewish soldiers scalping Nazis while plotting the assassination of Hitler, it’s only natural that he should make one about a freed slave ruthlessly cutting down slave owners.  Look up the definition of “natural”… it’s exactly that.

Setting the movie two years before the Civil War, Quentin Tarantino continues to craft his films in the Spaghetti Western style that he loves so much with wide shots and whip-cracking close-ups aplenty… vibrant costumes and shoot outs galore.  You want thing-a-ma-bobs?  He’s got twenty... er… I mean… After an extended opening credits sequence featuring a chain-gang of slaves being brutally marched through harsh conditions, we meet a well-spoken traveling dentist by the name of Dr. King Schulz, played by Christopher Waltz (Inglorious Basterds, The Green Hornet).  Some have complained that his polite, eloquent bounty hunter is just a rip-off of the character of Landa, or “Jew Hunter”, from Basterds, but to me it is more of “the evil twin vs. the good twin”.  Sure, the two characters are similar (which isn’t a bad thing) but Waltz gives a stellar performance, bringing wonderful new dimensions of humanity and decency to Schulz that his Nazi soldier counterpart lacked (go figure…).  Among the slaves on the chain is Django, played by Jamie Foxx (Ray, Collateral), whose time spent on plantations has led him to know the identity of Schulz’s next targets “The Brittle Boys” and launches them on a disturbing, bloody journey to find them.  Foxx and Waltz are excellent together developing a father/son, mentor/student relationship as Django learns the bounty hunter trade and becomes accustomed to other side of Southern society while searching for his wife.  Filled with a soft-spoken rage and almost alien wonderment, Foxx seamlessly transforms Django from a mostly small, quiet apprentice to a powerful warrior and smooth-talking, hardened killing machine. 

Perhaps it should be mentioned here that the movie is a bit… gruesome.  Granted, this is the same director who cut off a cop’s ear, “Shot Marvin in the face!”, cut down the “Crazy 88”, stepped on Elle’s other eye, and carved a Swastika into Landa’s forehead, but still, this one gets a bit… violent.  From the first scene to the couple of finales, the gun fights and other tussles don’t hold back.  In fact, they often intentionally go so far over the top with thunderous explosions of gunfire and the reddest blood you’ve ever seen that you forget this film is tackling such a sensitive subject.

Django isn’t just one big action movie or splatterfest, though; it does take a very serious and even more disturbing turn when we meet the twisted “CandieLand” plantation owner Calvin Candie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio (The Departed, Blood Diamond) and learn of his favorite pastime “Mandingo Fighting”, a human version of cockfighting where slaves fight to the death.  DiCaprio delivers an unsettlingly chilling performance while somehow making the rationalization of his lifestyle seem acceptable, if not commonplace, and then boiling over at other times in uncomfortably tense fits of rage.  A nearly unrecognizable Samuel L. Jackson (The Avengers, Jackie Brown) also adds to CandieLand’s horrors as the Head House Slave in one of his best roles in years.

Tarantino attempts to lay out his unmistakable brand of dialogue and direction over a disgusting period in American History without cheapening the subject or making light of it, and most of the time he does so with little friction.  All in all, it is a blaxploitation western, of course, and it does run just a tad long, but at the end I still found it to be one of the best movies I’ve seen all year.

D's Recommendation – 4 out of 5 – Excellent, but may be too disturbing for some.

"Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows Everything
That’s Wonderful Is What I feel When We’re Together!"
Ultraviolent Movies

1.  Wanted (2008) – This stylized action flick about a group of assassins who can curve bullets was a huge hit.  It was a pretty interesting idea and not a bad movie either.  I was more disappointed by the utter disregard the main character (a shy computer geek played by James MacAvoy) shows for the gross number of random civilians he inadvertently gets killed.  I mean, while selfishly chasing one target he essentially derails a train full of innocent people, most of whom plummet off a cliff… it’s good that I felt conflicted about rooting for him, right?

2.  Saw II (2005) – Saw II?  More like Saw Too Much!  Bazinga.  The first one was actually a pretty decent mystery thriller with a couple of scenes featuring grizzly ways to go.  This one… yeah… not so much… I hear the next few installments became got more and more disgusting, but this was the extent of my knowledge so…

3.  Hostel (2005) – Even if “Saw” paved the way, this is what I consider the first of the Torture Porn genre.  Again, the spooky urban legendesque story is not so bad (College guys are abducted in Europe so strangers can pay to murder them) and the title is better than what they originally wanted to call it: “Let’s See If You Vomit In Your Popcorn: A Love Story”.

4.  The Expendables (2010) – A bunch of famous action stars… BangbangbangbangBOOMBOOM!!!!! and then some dictator… POWBangbangbangbangKABLAMMO!!!!! some rich guy and a girl… BangratatatatatatatatatatatatataBOOMKRASSHHHHHHHBOOM!!!!!!  and then they made a sequel... Pa-tiiiinng.   

5.  300 (2006) – Thiiiish iiisshh Shhppaahtahh!!!  And Violent!  And Mostly Slow Motion!  And actually was a lot of fun!  I tried to keep war movies off this list, but I couldn’t resist with this one.  Fun Fact:  Gerard Butler has made D’s List 2 Weeks in a Row!  Thhiiiishhh iiisshhhh Cooinnsshhhidentaaaalll!

Rated DVD -
Joseph Gordon Levitt is a mafia hitman who must track down and kill the target who escaped his clutches.  Now he must find him before the mob takes matters into their own hands while protecting an Emily Blunts family.  But how do you kill a man when he is Bruce Willis…. from the future.  Oh, and he’s you.  Bruce Willis is you.

This one was a fun ride even if (as with most time travel movies) there are some paradoxes that pull the story apart if you think too much… or at all for that matter… but (and I rarely say this) the movie was still pretty great evenso.  Gordon-Levitt does a great Bruce Willis impression as his younger self and Jeff Daniels provides some deadpan comedy.  Awesome story with some great direction and special effects… not to mention the impressive acting from 6 year old Pierce Gagnon who plays the tempermental Cid.

Next Time on Rated D...
This Is 40 – Cause maybe then I’ll go see The Hobbit…

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