Django Unchained



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.


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.


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.


Rated R

165 minutes

Better In the Dark #60: Fight The Power: A Celebration of Spike Lee



Tom and Derrick team up with their Hip Hop Maestro, Kelen ‘B Hyphen’ Conley as they discuss one of Brooklyn’s favorite filmmaking sons, Spike Lee! Join the trio as they discuss a quintet of Spike’s films, from the seminal dramedy DO THE RIGHT THING to the utterly savage satire BAMBOOZLED and the controversial relationship dramas SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT and JUNGLE FEVER. Plus Tom and Kelen commiserate over the present fate of the Oakland Raiders, Derrick recognizes his co-host as The Blue-Eyed White Devil and Kelen tries to explain how he wouldn’t make out with Sasha Grey! It’s time to wake up, so get to clicking!

Better In The Dark #66: Director’s Court: The Case of Quentin Tarantino


It’s the first segment of Director’s Court, where the Guys Outta Brooklyn put famous filmmakers before the court of public opinion and decide whether they’re still valid or funneling down the drain. This time up, it’s Quentin Tarantino who’s under the microscope. Tom and Derrick examine Tarantino’s use of cultural touchstones, whether some of his set pieces are homages or rip-offs, whether his frequent appearances have served to sour the public separate from the films themselves, and other outstanding issues revolving around the man who made being a film geek cool. Plus we review Inglourious Basterds, and make suggestions as to what Tarantino should pursue for future projects. It’ll get medieval on you ass, so get to clicking!


Better In The Dark #141.5: Tyler Perry And That Damn Fat Suit



In this bite-sized Point Five Episode, Tom and Derrick discuss the films of Tyler Perry and his position in the entertainment industry and the black community. Is Perry pandering to his audience? Is his recent turn as Alex Cross a big to disassociate himself from his fans, or an attempt to expand his horizons? And does he have an obligation to present his fanbase with better quality product? You know that fat suit is getting hot, so get to clicking!

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Nocturne, The City That Lives By Night….needs a darker shade of protector




American Zoetrope/Orion Pictures/Warner Bros./Paramount Pictures

Directed by Wim Wenders

Produced by Francis Ford Coppola

Screenplay by Ross Thomas and Dennis O’Flaherty

Adaptation by Thomas Pope

Based on the novel “Hammett” by Joe Gores

I want you guys to do me a favor, okay? If sometime in the future, after I’m dead and gone and somebody, for whatever obscure reason wants to make a fictionalized movie about me and my adventures, make sure they watch HAMMETT first, okay? Because that’s exactly what I would want a fictionalized movie about me to be like.

HAMMETT tells you right from the start that it’s a fictionalized story about Dashiell Hammett, the writer who totally redefined the hard-boiled detective novel in America. He created Sam Spade, The Continental Op and Nick and Nora Charles. His Continental Op novel “Red Harvest” has been cited as the inspiration for movies such as “The Glass Key” “Yojimbo” “A Fistful of Dollars” and “Last Man Standing” as well as my own “It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time.” Dashiell Hammett had the benefit of authenticity in his work, having actually worked for The Pinkerton National Detective Agency for about eight years. He claimed that the characters in his stories were all people he actually knew or encountered in his work as a detective. And during the course of the events of this movies we see where he got the inspiration for certain characters in his stories. We also get a damn good mystery yarn to boot.

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But when we see Samuel Dashiell Hammett (Frederic Forrest) in this movie, he’s put his Pinkerton days behind him. Suffering from tuberculosis and alcoholism he’s living in San Francisco and has made a reputation for himself as a pulp writer of detective/thriller stories. One night after finishing a story he’s visited by his old Pinkerton partner James Francis Xavier Ryan (Peter Boyle) the guy who taught him everything he knew. Sam’s out of the game but Jimmy calls in an old marker and soon Sam Hammett finds himself helping Jimmy look for a Chinatown whore named Crystal Ling (Lydia Lei.) Jimmy made this out to be a simple missing person case but it’s far from that. Crystal Ling is also being hunted for by pornographic photographer Gary Salt (Jack Nance) and Chinatown ganglord Fong Wei Tau (Michael Tau.) And if that wasn’t enough Police Detective Lt. O’Mara (R.G. Armstrong) strongly suggests that Hammett forgets he ever heard the name Crystal Ling.

Sam would love to leave this whole dirty business alone but Jimmy has gone missing, along with the manuscript of his latest story. Assisted by librarian/sometimes girlfriend, the wonderfully named Kit Conger (Marilu Henner) and the cab driver Eli (Elisha Cook, Jr.) Hammett navigates the convoluted hidden government of San Francisco, run by The Cops, The Crooks and The Big Rich to find out what happened to Jimmy Ryan and the secret of Crystal Ling.

I cannot say enough about how much I love HAMMETT which to me successfully invokes the spirit of classic film noir from the 30’s and 40’s despite being a color movie. And most of it is due to to the outstanding performance of Frederic Forrest who should have won an Academy Award for Best Actor for this movie that year. There are so many touches of Humphrey Bogart in his performance…too many to name but if you watch the movie, you’ll see what I mean. It’s not an imitation, far from it. But you’ll have to see the movie to understand what I mean.


And it’s a writer’s movie in that we see how how in putting together this mystery, Hammett incorporates it into his fiction. We see surrealistic scenes where Hammett’s reality blends with his imagination that I could really identify with because it’s happened to me.

The supporting cast is outstanding with the exception of Marilu Henner who I put in the same class with Robin Givens. They’re actresses who everybody tells me are supposed to be sexy but to me work too hard at being sexy instead of just being sexy. Know what I mean? Lydia Lei is terrific as Crystal Ling and she has a scene with Frederic Forrest that ends up with her saying: “I did such wicked things” and you totally believe his response. David Patrick Kelly as a gunsel is reminiscent of the same character played by Elisha Cook Jr. in “The Maltese Falcon”

In fact, all of the characters in HAMMETT have echoes to characters we’ve seen in other movies based on this great writer’s works and in a way, that’s a large part of the enjoyment of HAMMETT. It’s one of my favorite movies and I’m betting that after you see it that it will be one of yours as well. It’s available for streaming on Netflix. Enjoy with my heartiest blessings.

97 minutes

Rated PG



Raw Deal



De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

Directed by John Irvin

Produced by Martha Schmacher

Screenplay by Gary DeVore and Norman Wexler

Story by Luciano Vincenzoni and Sergio Donati

For a change I’ll get right to the point and tell you guys exactly why I like RAW DEAL so much. For a considerable amount of screen time, Arnold Schwarzenegger is going around wearing tailored Armani suits with slicked back hair, trading insults with badguy Robert Davi while smoking foot-long Cuban cigars and playing baccarat while flirting with Kathryn Harrold in hidden underground Detroit gambling casinos. To the point where I honestly think he looked on this movie as an audition for him to play James Bond.  RAW DEAL isn’t a movie mentioned when Schwarzenegger movies are discussed and that’s a shame because RAW DEAL is a lot of fun. He isn’t required to be a one-man army until near the end of the movie unlike a lot of his movies where he’s shooting up folks from start to finish. I think RAW DEAL gets forgotten because the next year he would star in “Predator” and that was when his movie career would really take off.

Mark Kaminsky (Arnold Schwarzenegger) was once one of the FBI’s best agents. But he beat a suspect who molested and murdered a girl, nearly to death and federal prosecutor Marvin Baxter (Joe Regalbuto) forced him to resign. The only job Kaminsky could get was as the sheriff of a small town. His wife (Blanche Baker) is an unhappy alcoholic who cannot adjust to small town life and Kaminsky has no idea how to fix his marriage.

An opportunity presents itself when FBI Chief Harry Shannon (Darren McGavin) contacts Kaminsky. Shannon’s son was killed while protecting an informant who was going to testify against mobster Luigi Patrovita (Sam Wanamaker.) Shannon wants Kaminsky to join him on a secret mission of revenge. If Kaminsky will infiltrate Patrovita’s organization and destroy it from within, Shannon will get Kaminsky’s old job back. Shannon informs Kaminsky that there is a serious leak that has been getting their previous agents sent to infiltrate Patrovita’s mob killed so the only person who will know about Kaminsky is Shannon.


Kaminsky fakes his death and shows up in Chicago as Joe Brenner, disgraced Miami hood looking for a new home. After meeting with Patrovita’s right hand man Rocca (Paul Shenar) and Rocca’s right hand man Max Keller (Robert Davi) Kaminsky/Brenner goes full blown Yojimbo, working on the inside to turn the various members of Patrovita’s gang against other as well as stirring up trouble with Patrovita’s chief rival Martin Lamanski (Steven Hill) In the meantime he’s also busy trying to figure out exactly where gambler Monique (Kathryn Harrold) fits in all this and who’s side she’s on.


There’s a couple of points in RAW DEAL that for me kick it up a notch above most of Schwarzenegger’s bloodbaths. I like how he gets to wear cool suits and act all smooth. He carries it off a lot better than you would think. He’s no Roger Moore but he’s no slouch either. He knows what fork to use to eat his shrimp and how to play baccarat and that puts him two points up on me.

I liked the scene where Shannon is trying to talk Kaminsky into the job. He makes it very clear this is an unsanctioned mission of pure personal revenge that he himself is financing with his life savings. In an unexpected bit of business, Kaminsky says to Shannon that his son knew that by being an FBI agent his life was at risk every day and he accepted that. Shannon should accept it as well and just move on. It isn’t until Shannon mentions that he can get Kaminsky’s job back that Kaminsky agrees to take the job. I always appreciate it when the writers of a movie acknowledge that sometimes a hero does things because there’s something in it for him as well. It’s a good piece of motivation that didn’t have to be there but I’m glad it is.

I also liked the scene where Kaminsky meets with Shannon to tell him that he’s seriously considering going off the reservation and embracing Joe Brenner’s life for real. Again, it’s a scene that didn’t have to be there but it’s a scene that shows that the writers didn’t want this to just be another shoot ‘em up and at least wanted to give some depth to the Kaminsky character and not have him be the typical Schwarzenegger One Man Army.

I hadn’t seen this movie in ages but I think it holds up pretty well and a large part of that is due to the supporting cast, all of them seasoned pros who know how to play this material and do their jobs. The quasi-romance between Kaminsky and Monique is handled with just the right touch as Kaminsky still loves his wife but is plainly attracted to this woman who is also strongly attracted to him.

And yes, we do get Schwarzenegger as the unstoppable killing machine at the end where he takes on the entire Patrovita mob in an orgy of gunfire and non-stop violence. But the movie gives us a satisfying emotional ending as well between Kaminsky and Shannon.

So should you see RAW DEAL? Without a doubt. No, It’s no “Commando” or “Total Recall” but I think it’s an awfully damn good movie for Schwarzenegger to attempt at that stage of his acting career. If you’re an Arnold Schwarzenegger fan, you’ve probably seen RAW DEAL already. But if you haven’t, do so. I guarantee you’ll see a side of him you never saw before.

106 minutes

Rated R

Paths of Glory



Bryna Productions/United Artists

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Produced by James B. Harris

Screenplay written by Stanley Kubrick, Jim Thompson and Calder Willingham

Based on the novel “Paths of Glory” by Humphrey Cobb

We could discuss and debate all day long about why Stanley Kubrick is a genius filmmaker and why so many of his movies are masterpieces of cinema but here’s why his movies work for me: he didn’t sentimentalize or romanticize the way the people in his films behaved. He never worked at trying to make audiences like the people in his movies. He simply presented them as people and it’s up to you as a viewer to decide how you feel about them and what they’re doing. In a Stanley Kubrick movie, People Are People. And that’s just the way I like it.

In discussions I have with people about Stanley Kubrick the major complaint I hear from people as to why they don’t like his movies is that they’re too ‘cold’ and ‘cerebral’ which really perplexes me because those are words I would never use to describe “Spartacus” “Lolita” “Full Metal Jacket” “The Killing” “A Clockwork Orange” or the movie we’re going to be talking about now; PATHS OF GLORY.

We’re in the middle of World War I when General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) a senior member of the French Army General Staff visits General Mireau (George Macready) on a matter of grave urgency. The decision has been made (and quite pointedly it’s never made clear who exactly has made this decision) that an extraordinarily well-defended German position nicknamed “The Anthill” must be taken. Mireau is horrified at first. The Anthill is virtually impregnable. Taking it is a suicide mission and Mireau cites the brutally high cost of lives lost among his troops to take The Anthill and even if his men are successful, so many would be killed in the attempt that they couldn’t possibly hold it.

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Mireau sings a different song when Broulard dangles a fat promotion in front of his nose. All of a sudden Mireau thinks that such an attack will succeed. He leaves the actual planning of the attack to the regiment’s Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) who is frankly and openly aghast as he insists that the only thing this attack will do is waste the lives of good soldiers.  Mireau doesn’t back down and Dax insists that he be allowed to lead the men.


The attack is a disaster right from jump. So many soldiers are killed in the first wave that the rest refuse to leave the safety of their trenches. An enraged General Mireau orders his own artillery commander to fire on Dax’s men to force them out of the trenches and onto the battlefield. No fool he, our artillery commander: if Mireau wants him to fire on their own troops, he wants it in writing. The attack fails miserably and with a hideously high body count to show for it.


Mireau picks three soldiers to court-martial for cowardice. Corporal Paris (Ralph Meeker) is chosen only because there’s a secret he knows about a murder his drunken lieutenant committed. Private Ferol (Timothy Carey) is picked because he’s a “social undesirable.” Private Arnaud (Joe Turkel) is chosen randomly and he really has no business being on trial as he’s got citations for bravery. Dax volunteers to defend the men at their court-martial as in his civilian life he was a criminal defense lawyer but it soon becomes obvious to him that the entire trial is a kangaroo court and no matter what he does or says, three innocent men are going to be sentenced to death and stood up in front of a firing squad.


The outrageous injustice of what happens to these three men, each good and loyal soldiers is the core of what makes PATHS OF GLORY such an incredibly compelling movie to watch. The movie is a war movie but then again it isn’t about war, although it’s got one of the most impressive battle scenes I’ve ever seen on film. It’s about the hypocritical and deceptive nature of cowardice masquerading as leadership. It’s about the abuse of power and arm-chair warriors deciding whose life is valuable and whose life should be thrown away. Even in an office setting there are Generald Broulards and General Mireaus.

It’s some powerful stuff and there’s an equally powerful cast to sell the story. For me, Adolphe Menjou walks away with the acting honors. The way General Broulard manipulates the events that happen in this movie has to be seen to be believed. If his character had ever managed to meet and marry Angela Lansbury’s Mrs. Iselin from “The Manchurian Candidate” the two of them could have taken over the world. I see him more as the villain of this piece than General Mireau who is little more than an opportunistic fool who doesn’t know how to cover his own ass. Ralph Meeker owns every scene he’s in and this movie is has one of the best and strongest performances I’ve ever seen him turn in. And Kirk Douglas…well, he’s Kirk Douglas. ‘Nuff said.

The black-and-white cinematography is gorgeous and this is one of those movies that I watch and I weep for those of you who refuse to watch black-and-white movies. There are movies that I can’t imagine being in color and PATHS OF GLORY is one of them.


So should you see PATHS OF GLORY? Absolutely. It makes a terrific companion piece with Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam War epic “Full Metal Jacket” It’s a perfect example of the kind of movie that people mean when they say; “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.” And along with “Spartacus” it’s the Stanley Kubrick movie that people who claim Mr. Kubrick didn’t make emotional movies should watch. After scenes such as the kangaroo court, the doomed soldiers spending their last night together embracing their doom, the final walk to the firing squad and the final scene with the German girl singing to the French soldiers it’s obvious to me than Stanley Kubrick may have been the most emotional filmmaker the 20th Century had.

PATHS OF GLORY is available for streaming on Netflix and can also be seen on YouTube. I’ve provided the link below. Enjoy.

88 minutes