Friday, April 12, 2013

Worth Mentioning - Blood-Soaked Celluloid

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody caught Tarantino's latest on film.


In the film vs. digital debate, Quentin Tarantino is a big proponent for sticking with film, even going so far as to say a couple years ago that he'd be retiring from making movies when digital projection fully takes over. That's probably happening quicker than he realized it would, as last year the word came out that studios will stop producing 35mm prints for their movies in the major markets by the end of 2013 and for the whole world by 2015. Most multiplexes are already completely digital, while independent theatres and the remaining drive-ins around the U.S. are struggling to raise enough money to make the costly switch over. A lot of these places will probably be going out of business if they can't afford to go digital. The little guy loses again.

There is one theatre I go to regularly that still shows its movies primarily on 35mm. The dollar theatre. So when I missed the window of opportunity to see Django Unchained during its first-run release a couple months ago, I wasn't too concerned. I could wait a little while, see it at the dollar theatre projected on 35mm and have the proper, Tarantino-approved viewing experience instead of seeing it projected digitally, which he has called "television in public". When the movie finally did reach the dollar theatre, I was there. I couldn't miss it. Thanks to the Fathom Events screenings of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction back in December filling in the gaps, I've seen every other Tarantino movie theatrically, so I had to keep the streak going.

When Tarantino first hit the scene, there were some who called him a rip-off artist. Exposé articles were written and videos made to show the world that Tarantino was drawing story and shot inspirations from other films. It seems ridiculous now. As Tarantino's career has gone on, it's become very clear that his films are built on homage to others that he has seen and loved, that he's filtering his appreciation and enthusiasm for his favorites into his own versions of the genres and stories. Django Unchained is his take on the Spaghetti Western, set in the American Southeast. He calls it a Southern.

The year is 1858, before the Civil War, and the story focuses on slavery and racism much more than most Westerns have. It begins with German bounty hunter/former dentist King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) "acquiring" a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) because he's familiar with the men Schultz is currently tracking down. Schultz despises slavery, so rather than force Django to do what he wants him to, he makes a deal with him - if he helps him find the men he's looking for, they'll split the bounty and Schultz will give Django his freedom.

The partnership between Schultz and Django lasts longer than initially expected. Knowing that life will be very dangerous for Django once he has his freedom, Schultz decides to spend the winter getting him prepared to go out on his own, teaching him skills he'll need while they hunt bounties together. During their months as partners, Django becomes the fastest gun in the south. Schultz is also a big softie, so when he hears Django's backstory about his German-speaking slave wife Broomhilda (a name she shares with a character in a popular German legend), who was taken from him by a disapproving plantation owner, both of them beaten mercilessly and sold to different owners at an auction, Schultz agrees to help Django find his lost love and free her from whatever sort of situation she may be in now.

The search for Broomhilda leads Django and Schultz to a man named Calvin Candie, a creep who's currently getting entertainment from and making money off of "mandingo fights", basically human cockfights where slaves are forced to fight each other and every bout ends with the death of one of the fighters.

Things get quite bloody along the way of Django's journey, although the shock of the violence is lessened by how cartoony it is. The blood squibs are often like explosions of raspberry milkshake.

The title of the film, and the name of the lead character, is a reference to director Sergio Corbucci's 1966 Spaghetti Western titled Django, which starred Franco Nero as the titular character. Django was so successful that the titles of dozens of other films were changed to fit the name "Django" into them, even though they had nothing to do with Corbucci's film or the character. The only proper Django sequel, with Nero again in the role, was 1987's Django Strikes Again. Like most films with Django in the title, Django Unchained is not really connected to the 1966 film, but they do share some elements - both Nero's Django and Jamie Foxx's are out to avenge wrongs that were committed against their wives - and Tarantino gives Nero a great little cameo in the film, where Foxx-Django is introduced to the character played by Nero. Django spells his name out and notes that "the D is silent", to which Nero replies "I know" before walking away.

The cast of the film is great. Nero isn't the only actor who shows up for a brief cameo, and I didn't even catch or recognize some whose names I saw in the credits. The movie is coming out on DVD/Blu on Tuesday and I look forward to watching it again so I can spot actors like Robert Carradine or take a moment to realize that that was The Dukes of Hazzard's Tom Wopat as another character. Kerry Washington plays Broomhilda, so it's understandable why Django goes through so much trouble for her. Jamie Foxx does fine work as Django, but the character is a bit overshadowed by the shining performances from Waltz as Schultz (a role that won him his second Best Supporting Actor Oscar, he won his first for his role in Tarantino's previous film, Inglourious Basterds) and Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie.

One moment of DiCaprio's that really blew me away was a scene in which he injures his palm while going off on a raging rant and plays out the scene while blood runs down his hand. I'm even more impressed by that scene now that I've read that DiCaprio actually did hurt his hand in that moment but stayed in character long enough to act out the scene while his real blood poured out, blood which he wipes on the face of Kerry Washington. When the scene was finished, DiCaprio had to be taken to get stitches in his palm.

Actors who I hadn't heard of before also caught my attention in smaller roles, like Daniele Watts as a slave girl called Coco. In a French maid outfit with a big bow in her hair, Coco has to greet Candie's guests in French and keep herself in cutesy poses even when horrible things are going on around her. Looking her up later, I found that Watts had written a very interesting essay about how getting cast in the film led her to a discovery about her own heritage.

Django Unchained is a simple action/revenge tale that Tarantino takes nearly 3 hours to tell, and yet it moves at a good pace and felt to me like it was an hour shorter than it actually was. I was interested in seeing how he would write it, because the period setting makes this the first time he's written a script where he couldn't have the characters discuss movies and pop culture randomness. He still finds ways to draw out the dialogue a little more than necessary sometimes, but more instances of that were cut between script and screen and overall it's a refreshing change of pace to not have the direct references to fall back on. The Academy was impressed, giving Tarantino his second Best Screenplay Oscar for it. (His first was shared with Roger Avary for Pulp Fiction.) As of right now, I wouldn't list this film as one of my top favorite Tarantino movies, but it was an enjoyable watch.

No comments:

Post a Comment