Don Johnson

Django Unchained

Django-Unchained-Poster

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

A Boy And His Dog

1975

LQ/JAF

Written and Directed by L.Q. Jones

Produced by Alvy Moore

Based on the novella by Harlan Ellison

Science Fiction movies made today may be a lot of flash and spectacle, stuffed full of plastic characters with shallow motivations and even shallower personalities, backed up by a ton of CGI effects but give ‘em this: at least they’re optimistic.  Science Fiction movies of the 50’s/60’s and 70’s were dour, apocalyptic, doom-laden eulogies predicting The Downfall of Mankind.  More often than not these movies predicted the end of the world through Man’s Own Fault.  Nuclear holocausts was practically a given.  If you watch a movie made during that period you get the distinct impression that nobody thought we’d make it out of the 20th Century.  A BOY AND HIS DOG is a good example of what I’m talking about.  It’s a post-apocalyptic Science Fiction action/adventure with just enough social satire thrown in to give you a chuckle, set in one of the most depressing future worlds you can think of and the ending takes black comedy to a new level.

In the year 2024 Earth has not only seen World War III but World War IV as well and America is a burned out, burned up wasteland.  There’s no civilization to speak of unless you want to try your luck in one of the near mythical underground cities of Downunder.  But above ground Vic (Don Johnson) and his telepathic dog Blood (played by Tiger/voice by Tim McIntire) like it just fine.  They enjoy pitting their wits against roving bands of marauders and scavengers, stealing food from them when they can and hunting up women for Vic to rape.  One of these women Blood hunts up is Quilla June (Susanne Benton) who lives Downunder in a city called ‘Topeka’ but sneaks up to the surface from time to time for a little sexual excitement with the savages.  Blood telepathically sniffs her out and Vic captures her.  But he doesn’t have long to enjoy his prize before he and Blood are forced to defend her against a band of scavengers in a brutal battle that leaves Blood badly hurt.

Quilla June escapes Vic and goes back Downunder.  Vic is determined to follow her and leaves Blood on the surface while he makes his way Downunder.  It’s not what he thinks.  Under the guidance of The Committee and Mr. Craddock (Jason Robards) Topeka is like Norman Rockwell on crystal meth.   There’s marching bands 24/7, parades, dances, hoedowns and everybody has their faces disturbingly painted like circus clowns.  Vic is scrubbed down and cleaned up and informed that Quilla June deliberately lured him to Topeka to help with their population problem.  It’s a problem Vic is happy to help them with until he finds out he’s not going to be able to do it the old fashioned way.  Quilla June and some of the young members of Topeka want to enlist Vic’s help to overthrow The Committee and Mr. Craddock so they can establish a New World Order.  The revolution doesn’t go as Quilla June planned and both she and Vic are forced to return to the surface where Vic and Blood are reunited and that leads into the resolution of the relationship between Vic, Blood and Quilla June.  And what a resolution it is.  One that drives home the title of the movie in more ways than one.

A BOY AND HIS DOG probably won’t have much to offer most of today’s CGI happy movie going crowd but then again, it’s not that type of movie.  It was made during a time when a Science Fiction Movie didn’t mean Big Explosions, half a billion dollar budgets, Big Stars and CGI effects every 30 seconds.  A BOY AND HIS DOG relies on the characters and the story to engage viewers.  It’s a film that has acquired Cult Movie status over the years and I think it earned that status honestly.  You’re going to be amazed at how young Don Johnson looks in this one.  He made this movie about 10 years before “Miami Vice” and even in this early work of his you can see flashes and hints of what made him a star later on.  Considering that most of his emotional scenes are with a dog, Don Johnson does a pretty good job.  A lot of their dialog is done with him speaking and Blood ‘speaking’ back telepathically and between the two of them they convinced me that they actually had a psychic rapport.

Blood is played by Tiger, whose major role everybody remembers him in is playing the family dog of “The Brady Bunch”.  But here he actually gets a chance to act and I don’t say that lightly.  A lot of the movie hangs on how Blood reacts to Vic and to give Tiger his credit; he’s just as much of an actor as Don Johnson.  There are a lot of great scenes between them where the dog actually looks as if he’s really ‘talking’ telepathically to Johnson and having a psychic conversation with him.  And Johnson adds to the realism because he treats Tiger just as he would any other actor.  It’s really some nice acting here.  Not great.  But just enough to get across the reality of the situation.  Jason Robards really doesn’t have much to do in this movie and during my research for this review I found out that he really just did the movie as a favor to the director, L.Q. Jones.

Speaking of L.Q. Jones, he’s much better known as an actor.  He’s been in a ton of westerns including two of my favorites: “The Wild Bunch” and “Lone Wolf McQuade” (yes, “Lone Wolf McQuade” is a western) but he occasionally directed movies and TV shows with A BOY AND HIS DOG as his best known directorial effort.  And with good reason.  It’s a really good movie.  Low budget, high enthusiasm, minimum SFX, high concept.  The performances are good and there’s a down-and-dirty realism that you just don’t see in Science Fiction movies today.  I have it in my DVD library and I realize that it may not be to everybody’s taste but I think you ought to at least give it a viewing.

One thing I think I should advise you of, though: In our (shudder) PC obsessed society, the character of Vic may not be to everybody’s liking as no punches are pulled as he’s portrayed as a rapist and a killer.  And then there’s that ending.  So if you think you would be offended watching a movie with such a character as the lead, by all means pass this one by.

91 Minutes

Rated: R