Christoph Waltz

Django Unchained

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2012

Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Produced by Reginald Hudlin, Stacy Sher and Pilar Savone

At the end of the day after we’ve finally put to bed all the complaints about Quentin Tarantino’s use of the word ‘nigger’, the stylized ultra-violence and placing the story of DJANGO UNCHAINED in the pre-Civil War, slavery infested American South ultimately it comes down to one thing: is DJANGO UNCHAINED a movie worth your time and money seeing? I think it is. And I recommend it highly. But you have to keep in mind that I’m a confirmed Quentin Tarantino fan and so I tend to overlook a lot of the flaws in his movies. And they do have flaws, as do all movies as there’s no such thing as a perfect movie. It’s just that Tarantino gets so many things right in his movies I’m totally willing to cut him much slack on those flaws. And I just love his attitude about making movies. He just goes ahead and puts it all out there, manically throwing in so many influences from so many things that you can’t rightly point at a Tarantino movie and say that it’s strictly a crime story or a revenge drama or a war movie. And in the case of DJANGO UNCHAINED it’s a spaghetti western, a comedy, a romantic quest, a revenge saga and a surprisingly honest look at slavery as it existed in the period before the Civil War. That honesty comes with a whole lot of brutality and pain and Tarantino doesn’t turn away from it.

DJANGO UNCHAINED has nothing to do with the classic 1966 spaghetti western “Django” save that the protagonists share the name. There is a subtle passing of the torch in a nice little scene between Jamie Foxx and the original Django, Franco Nero himself but it’s not at all necessary to have seen the earlier movie. This new Django is a black man, a slave with no future save to work and die. But he’s given a new life when he is freed by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) a dentist turned bounty hunter. Schultz is hunting three men who have sizeable bounties on their heads. He’s never seen them before but Django has. Schultz makes a deal with Django who is frankly bewildered by this loquacious, articulate white man who treats him with respect and speaks to him as an equal. If Django helps him find the three men, he’ll give Django his freedom and part of the bounty money.

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During the course of their hunt for the Brittle Brothers, Schultz teaches Django how to shoot and how to track men as he discovers that the ex-slave in his words is “born for this line of work” and shortly the two men are full partners in bounty hunting. Their friendship grows such a degree that Schultz agrees to help Django rescue his wife Brunhilde/Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who was separated from her husband and sold to Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) master of the fourth largest plantation in Mississippi, Candyland. Candyland is famous for the Mandingo fighters Candie trains and it’s by pretending that they are interested in buying one of his fighters that gets Django and Schultz inside Candyland. But due to the suspicious nature of Candyland’s majordomo Steven (Samuel L. Jackson) the partners may not make it out alive, much less accomplish their mission.

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I have to admit again that I’m a sucker for the reckless operatic nature of any Tarantino film and DJANGO UNCHAINED is no different. It looks and feels like a big movie should and it has the acting power to back it up. And in addition, Tarantino has put away his toolbox of his usual stylistic visual effects to just tell his story and trust the strength of that story and the performances to back it up. Christoph Waltz I fell in love with five minutes into the movie. At first I thought it was a little risky for Tarantino to put the beginning of this film on his shoulders the way he did in “Inglourious Basterds” but Waltz quickly establishes that this is a totally different character and does it very well with a quirky edge that is both very funny and very dangerous.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson appear to have some sort of private side bet to see who can out-ham the other in their scenes together and I mean that in the best possible way. They’re having fun with the material and their characters and it shows in their outstanding performances. I’ve never been much of a Jamie Foxx fan but I liked his performance a lot here. His transformation from raggedy slave to professional bounty hunter to avenging angel is thrilling to watch. And I thought it really refreshing to have as a protagonist an heroic black man who is motivated by the love he has for his wife and wants her back. It gives the movie an emotional core that puts it on a level above a simple revenge or hunt for gold plot.

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If there’s anything in the movie I can point to and go, “say wha now?” it’s Kerry Washington’s performance in the movie. Not that it’s a bad one. Or even a good one as there simply isn’t enough there for me to say one way or another. Considering that it’s her character’s plight that gets the story going, Kerry Washington has surprisingly few lines and even fewer scenes. Oh, trust me when I say that she works with what she’s been given but it just struck me as odd that more wasn’t done with her character.

What else? There’s the parade of familiar and not so familiar faces in the movie. I didn’t recognize Lee Horsley, Tom Wopat, Robert Carradine, Tom Savini or James Remar. But I did recognize Dennis Christopher, Bruce Dern, Walton Goggins and James Russo. And I most certainly did recognize Don Johnson and Jonah Hill in an absolutely side-splitting scene  involving The Klan and a discussion about the proper way to cut eyeholes in a hood that is hilarious enough to be worthy of Mel Brooks.

Two more things and I’ll let you get back to what you were doing. The language is extremely raw and graphic and ‘nigger’ is used freely, often and by every member of the cast. If you are offended by the word then I strongly urge you to give the movie a pass. However, if you can accept the usage of the word considering the period of American history the movie is set in as one where the word was used commonly, fine. Mind you, I’m not condoning or condemning the use of the word. But I do consider it my duty as a reviewer of the movie to inform you that the word is used and used a LOT.

The violence. I’d heard a lot about the violence in DJANGO UNCHAINED and maybe I’ve become desensitized due to all the violent movies I’ve seen but I actually didn’t see anything in DJANGO UNCHAINED I hadn’t seen before. The gunfights are obviously inspired by Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” and there are some grisly scenes of mayhem and torture that actually could have been worse if Tarantino had lingered on them. But he stays on the shot just long enough for you to get the idea and then he cuts away to let your imagination fill in the rest.

So should you see DJANGO UNCHAINED? Chances are that if you’re a Quentin Tarantino fan you’ll already made up your mind to see it and if you’re not then I doubt anything I’ve said here will change your mind. But for me, it’s another home run for him. Quentin Tarantino hasn’t yet made a movie I haven’t enjoyed and I immensely enjoyed DJANGO UNCHAINED.

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Rated R

165 minutes

Carnage

2012

Sony Film Classics

Directed by Roman Polanski

Produced by Said Ben Said

Screenplay by Roman Polanski and Yasmina Reza

Based on the play “God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza 

When the end credits of CARNAGE scrolled on the screen I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes from the animated movie “The Point” which is the lesson learned by the main character Oblio who is the only round-headed person in a land where everything and everyone has a point.  The lesson: You don’t have to have a point to have a point.

What has this got to do with CARNAGE?  Well, I just threw it out there so that if and when you decide to watch it you won’t be taken by surprise by the movie’s conclusion which isn’t really a conclusion.

Alan and Nancy Cowan (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet) visit the Brooklyn condo of Michael and Penelope Longstreet (John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster) to discuss a recent incident involving their sons.  During a playground dispute, the Cowan boy hit the Longstreet boy with a stick, knocking out two of his teeth.  The parents have decided to meet to avoid legal foofaraw and resolve the matter themselves.  Penelope insists they they can work this out in a civilized manner.  Turns out that she’s wrong.  As the discussion gets more involved as the two couples discuss marriage, parenthood, their jobs and their lives, civilized behavior begins to deteriorate.  And once the apple cobbler, 12 year old Scotch and cigars come out, things really begin to heat up.

Penelope is insistent that societal responsibility must be adhered to and blame assigned.  Michael strives to remain the genial and affable host, struggling to contain his short temper and naturally abrasive manner.  Nancy resents being in competition with Alan’s Blackberry which he seems to prefer talking to during the meeting rather than the Longstreets.  What starts out as a simple meeting soon turns into the four people dissecting each other verbally, cutting away the false faces they wear to get along in the world and getting at who they really are underneath.

Now, don’t worry that we’re getting into “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” territory here.  Although the movie could have easily gone that way, it doesn’t.  Instead, it’s surprisingly light and funny.  The characters don’t really go for each other’s jugular, instead we get them throwing solid jabs at each other but never going for a knockout punch.

What we have here are four really fine actors just…well, acting.  99% of the movie takes place inside of the Longstreet apartment with just the four actors.  And it is fun to watch them at work.  Especially John C. Reilly who stole the movie every chance he got, as far as I was concerned.  But everybody gets a chance to shine and they do.  For some, this movie may be too much like a filmed play but I didn’t have a problem with it.  Matter of fact, I prefer to watch my plays this way, especially when they are this well-acted.

Well, maybe just two problems.  It does get a little tiresome to have the Cowans continually attempt to leave the apartment only to have to return.  And I can’t see four people getting that drunk on one bottle of Scotch.  But at one point, Alan does say; “That’s some Scotch,” so maybe it is possible.

So should you see CARNAGE?  You should if you like the actors involved and want to see them throwing witty, sharp dialog at each other.  There’s really no plot here, no story, no stirring resolution or life-changing  epiphany.  Just four great actors doing what they do best.

80 minutes

Rated R for language as there is no violence or sex at all.