Monday, December 31, 2012

Django Unchained

At some point I'd like to get back to writing about tech, but it has been a bit difficult because life has simple been busy! I've been loving life though and trying to fit in dancing and training where I can. In the meantime - look! A post:

Kunta Evolved

I watched the BET Awards earlier this year and at the end of the show Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington came on stage and introduced a montage of clips from Django Unchained and he set it up as what he wanted to be the most influential piece of Black cinema since Roots. He introduced it as "Kunta Evolved." I have to admit that I haven't actually seen the highly acclaimed Roots starring Lavaar Burton, though its power as a film is undeniable. (I'm putting it on my "movies to see" list, but I didn't want to delay this review on seeing it.)  So does it live up to such hype from Foxx himself? I think it's going to be near impossible for Tarantino to ever have an impact on pop culture like Pulp Fiction had, but I think this has got to be as close as Tarantino could get.

In case you don't know what the basic premise is (though in all their video ads and trailers they've actually done a pretty good job of explaining it),  Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) is a bounty hunter who comes across a bounty for three brothers that Django (Jamie Foxx) has seen and is one of a few people who would be able to identify them. Hence, he recruits Django to help him with this in exchange for a small percentage of the bounty, his freedom, and later the opportunity to rescue his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). To make things more interesting, in true Tarantino fashion this film is a homage. It's a devoted dedication to Blaxploitation films with a nod to Spaghetti Westerns. It's a simple enough plotline that is painted with dialogue so crazy only Tarantino would have the guts to put it on the big screen, loads of suspense and emotion, and, of course, cartoonishly vicious displays of violence wrapped in a revenge story. Revenge is a common motif in Tarantino films (Kill Bill, Jackie Brown, Inglourious Basterds), and I think his take in this film is actually a little different - but I think expounding out that would be a spoiler so I won't. As a film, I'd probably compare it most closely to Inglourious Basterds, but with lots more blood. And I mean a lot.

The acting in this film is, as expected, phenomenal. I don't know what Tarantino puts in his cast's water, but what excites me most about seeing his work is that no performance leaves anything to be desired. I was a little disappointed that he didn't throw any no-names in here or washed up actors - they were all actors that you'd already expect to be talented. Kerry Washington is probably the least familiar to audiences, and she is radiant. Though this film lacks strong women due to the time period, I still saw the scenes with her showed inspiring courage and immense beauty, even when dressed as a slave (to be clear: I'm not saying she was beautiful because she was a slave, but that it was crazy that even when she tugged on your heart strings for her deplorable state they could never fully destroy her beauty). I don't know what to say about Christoph Waltz that I didn't say in my review of Inglourious Basterds - he's a treat whenever he's on screen. You can't help but love him as an actor and his character as a person. Even though he kills people for a living, you still have to root for him. Jamie Foxx is an often underrated actor, but given the right material he can really do something special - and I think he does here. As far as the antagonists go, you can't help but love to hate Sam Jackson and Leonardo DiCaprio. I'm sure its hard as a human being to say some of the stuff they had to say in this film (especially for Samuel L Jackson), but they were such unique villains. While I did see similarities between DiCaprio here and Waltz in Inglourious Basterds, I liked how the movie almost made you forget at times what a terrible person DiCaprio is. His Southern sensibilities almost hid it away.

The set pieces and costumes in the film were really great, not much I can say here. The costumes really put you in the time period and the set pieces were nice gradients of muted plains versus elegance. I was a little disappointed that the set pieces didn't lend themselves to any exceptional cinematography. In past Tarantino films there are a number of scenes I remember specifically because of the images they conveyed that were burned into my brain, but I didn't really have much of that here.

The soundtrack is ridiculous - it's a must-buy. I'm actually listening to it right now and, per normal, it drums up in me memories from the movie. It's got Rick Ross, John Legend, 2Pac, Ennio Morricone and the standard bevy of quotable quotes from the movie. I love that there are theme songs for King and for Django - those are nice touches. Tarantino typically forms his soundtracks before he starts shooting his films, not the other way around. For a music-lover like me, this is not lost on me.

I know this has been an all-out lovefest, but this is far from my favorite Tarantino film. First of all, it's just too long. I know he's a really passionate director and he wrote the script so he's naturally very attached to it, but he needs to get a better editor.  Two hours and forty-five minutes is just ridiculous. The final act went on for far too long. I'd have to watch it again to tell you exactly what I think needed to be cut, but I think Tarantino had too many ideas he was trying to convey here. I really wish he would've picked a couple and focused on those, and then just given us the rest as deleted scenes later. I also thought there was also too much violence in this film. It wasn't hyper-realistic like in a war moving, but it also wasn't humorously ridiculous violence like in Kill Bill. At times the violence was definitely a little disturbing. Even when characters you're rooting for kill people, you may sometimes cringe. It was so much so that I walked out of this film not really sure how I felt about it. I only realized how much I liked the film as a whole hours later when I was recalling it and the scenes that struck me and emotions that were stirred up in me. It's just not a super easy film to re-watch again and again compare to his other work.

So, should you run out and see it? If you can stomach buckets of blood and being reminded of how awful slaves were treated, go for it. It's a worthwhile ride to be on even with its flaws. While it may not be Tarantino's best work, it's easily one of the best (maybe the best) I've seen all year. My letter rating is an A-.