Saturday at the Movies: Glenn Walker on Django Unchained

django1We’ve already taken one look at Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained here at Biff Bam Pop!, a few weeks ago by Emily McGuiness, but the flick is still doing well in the theaters, it’s garnered a few Oscar nominations, and folks are still talking about it, so it’s still relevant – why not let that hack Glenn Walker review it? The dirty deed is after the jump.

The Real Django

First a bit of background. Tarantino’s spaghetti western isn’t the first time a character named Django has graced the screen. Forget Godzilla or James Bond, Django is a franchise that makes them look like pikers. Some are official, some are not, but there are over thirty Django films.

django2They all stem from the original 1966 spaghetti western starring Franco Nero as the title character. Django was created by Italian director Sergio Corbucci and brought to life by Nero in what was called at the time the most violent film ever made. One of the scenes that earned it that reputation is an ear severing scene that Tarantino himself paid homage to in his directorial debut Reservoir Dogs.

What’s In The Coffin?

The 1966 Django is otherwise typical of the Italian spaghetti western genre, with much of the plot revolving around what is in the coffin Django drags around behind him. Who is this stranger and what’s in that coffin? Is it for him, or for his victims? You’ll have to watch and find out.

Full Circle

Ear cutting aside, Tarantino does pay homage to the original character in Django Unchained. Franco Nero himself, listed in the credits as ‘bar patron,’ confronts Jamie Foxx’s Django in a bar, and knows that the D in Django is silent. Nice cameo.

Django Unchained also fills the boots of the original by its violence. In tone, as well as graphic exploitation, this is a very violent film. This isn’t cartoon violence akin to the Shaw Brothers style used in the Kill Bill films, this is hardcore, and fitting, Spaghetti Western violence. Tarantino has done Corbucci, Sergio Leone, and the rest of the masters much honor in following tradition.

django3Quentin Tarantino’s Django

So we’re clear, cameos don’t count as sequels, so this is a new Django. In QT’s vision, Django is a freed slave turned bounty hunter, played by Jamie Foxx as mentioned above. As I suspected, the Oscar acting nomination went to Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schwartz who frees, befriends and teaches Django the bounty hunting trade. Foxx is good, he’s always good, but he stands in the shadow of Waltz in this film. Where in Tarantino’s last film venture, Waltz was evil incarnate, here he is a heart warming lovable bounty hunter whose own moral code condemns him. Brilliant. If he doesn’t get the Oscar, he’s been robbed.

Much has been made of the use of the N word in this film. Spike Lee has even gone so far as to personally boycott the film, and was later rumored to have said, “American slavery was not a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It was a Holocaust.” But then Spike has attacked Tarantino’s use of the word before, in both Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown. It did not affect the audience I saw Django Unchained with. I was one of maybe a dozen non-African-American folks in a nearly full theater. I’m pretty sure everyone who was there dug the flick a lot.

django5The Rest of the Cast

Samuel L. Jackson always stands in a position of power when he appears in a Quentin Tarantino film, even here, where he appears to at first simply be a simpering ‘house Negro,’ a stereotypical insult aping Stepin Fetchit of the bad old days of Hollywood. But QT is a sly one and gives Jackson a very juicy role, a much more intelligent and devious villain than viewers might at first suspect. Much praise to Jackson, and Tarantino, into turning this character out the way they did.

Also good in the cast were the villainous takes done by Don Johnson and Leonardo DiCaprio, both highly underrated actors. I loved the cameos, not just Nero’s as mentioned above, or Jonah Hill’s hilarious turn that Emily talks about in her review. I loved seeing Don Stroud, Dennis Christopher, Dexter’s dad, James Remar, and Jesus Christ Superstar himself, Ted Neely.

My Opinion

Tarantino gives us many many homages to other films in this flick, a dizzying amount, almost too many to list. This might be why it’s hard for me to give this film as bad a rating as I might otherwise. Django Unchained is a love letter to film fans, all film fans. Like Inglourious Basterds, it pays off for cinema fanatics in not just giving light to fans of the spaghetti western, or of war movies, but of many genres. It’s everywhere. QT loves film, and his work is a gift to those of us watching who also love film.

django6The problem comes in that this, and Inglourious Basterds as well to a point, are not Tarantino’s best work. He’s been slacking off since Kill Bill in my opinion. There is little memorable music, a trademark in his work, and very little memorable dialogue, which is, of course the trademark when it comes to QT. I was disappointed.

Is it a problem, that’s the real question, when a disappointing Quentin Tarantino film is still better than eighty percent of the stuff currently in theaters? Yes, it is. Because we know Quentin Tarantino can do better. Get your groove back, QT, I’ll be waiting, probably watching Django Unchained a few more times…

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