One of the things I love about Django Unchained is how nervous it makes white, Republican people. That it's a great film from a masterfully mad director, who astonishingly seems to be getting better with each movie he makes, never enters their minds.
Indeed, many right wing bloviators have opined -- apparently without having seen it -- that Django is nothing more than a film that paints whitey as the devil and which might incite black people to revolution, which most reactionary conservatives secretly believe is still bound to happen.
That's because Quentin Tarantino enjoys a special place within his pop culture relevance, allowing him to say pretty much whatever the fuck he wants without some spineless studio execs getting in his way. That kind of undiluted, cinematic id and the way he filters his influences into provocatively playful gems of genre transfusion don't conform with unengaged filmgoers, simplistic politics, or shallow minds that see nothing but black and white.
Content of Character. Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz give stellar performances in a conspiracy to liberate Southern slaves in the wonderful — though violent — Django Unchained.
With Django Unchained, QT turns his sights, once again, on revenge -- that of a freed slave against the white, flesh-peddling hierarchy. Which is another way of saying this movie will blow Sean Hannity's mind. He won't get that Tarantino isn't making an example of white people in general, just the right-wing, nativist kind who owned slaves back in the day and make up the core of the tea party now. That they would be alarmed is telling.
Django (Jamie Foxx) is liberated from a slave gang by a German bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (a damn near perfect Christoph Waltz). Schultz is in pursuit of the the Brittle Brothers, a trio of criminals from whom he'll earn a massive paycheck when he delivers them, dead or alive, to the law. Schultz has no idea what they look like but Django does. Turns out they were present when his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), was separated from him and sold off to Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), an evil, yet jovial, plantation owner with a side business in mandigo fighters and prostitutes. Django and Dr. Schultz become partners, with Django helping Schultz to track down the brothers and Schultz agreeing to help Django get his wife back.
Spoiler: Lots of dudes get shot.
In a way, some part of me wishes QT would move on from revenge films since they have comprised his last four movies, their differences being genre -- Kill Bill's Shaw Brothers influence (among others) gives way to Death Proof's grindhouse roots which lead to Inglourious Basterds' lovely Jewish revenge, WWII porn. Now Django fulfills the same fantasy for slaves in a spaghetti western -- there's even a bloody climax that feels like a spiritual cousin to the epic House of Blue Leaves sequence in Kill Bill Vol. I. Genre is what fascinates QT.
But when his anachronistic, historical revisionism is hitting on all cylinders it's hard to complain about wheel spinning. Django Unchained is still a singular vision, and if you had any love for Tarantino's style -- and the substance beneath -- then this is one big, fat, bloody, provocative three-hour Christmas gift.
QT perfectly paces the tale, bringing together a peculiar amalgam of aesthetic reverence and narrative playfulness that makes Django a tonal odd-ball. The violence of their mission is cartoonishly over the top, but there's just something genuine and comforting about these two characters joining forces as if this were some weird buddy-cop movie that ties the carnage together with a certain sweetness and sense of humor.
That light-hearted tone might be off-putting to some, but it's important to note that it's reserved for when the bad guys (white slavers) get their comeuppance. When the slaves suffer (as in the brutally undignified mandingo fight) there is no sense of humor at play -- just a serious feeling of empathy.
His pacing barrels along -- never dragging or dull -- which is basically a miracle due to its length and largely possible by way of the performances. Jamie Foxx is beautifully understated as Django. It was pretty well known that the part was offered to Will Smith initially, who thankfully passed (nothing about this film fits his "image") because I can't imagine a better choice for the role than Foxx -- who can handle the dramatic chops, the action, and the humor with aplomb.
Christoph Waltz is pure joy; his Dr. Schultz a likeable and deadly man of justice ("I don't believe in the institution of slavery," he says before freeing Django's slave gang to extract revenge on the slaver who was going to sell them -- by exploding his head with a shotgun). He's full of mischievous humor and warmth. I could watch a series with these two just banging around the Old West, knocking off assholes and getting in adventures. That would be great.
But that probably won't happen, and honestly, QT needs to move on to new themes anyway. But as a film, Django Unchained is QT's new masterpiece and marks another milestone in the ascension of arguably America's best living filmmaker. People will be watching his movies for a long, long time.
Never having been a fan of musicals until they get turned into movies, it's taken me this long to find out what all the excitement over Les Miserables was about. A two-and-a-half-hour long play literally called The Miserable, full of dirty waifs, singing ragamuffins and disease ridden peasantry set in the run up to one of the French revolutions? No thanks.
But I'll be the first to admit it: I can be stupid. After getting sucked into director Tom Hooper's visually bombastic adaptation of Victor Hugo's emotionally devastating drama, I can't quite get it out of my mind. The songs "At the End of the Day," "I Dreamed a Dream," and "On My Own" are stuck in a loop in my head that would begin to border on maddening if they weren't so alternately catchy and beautiful. The memory of Hugo's tale still inspires a feeling of warmth and wonder that oddly fits with the oncoming holiday.
The story opens in 19th century France, where we find Jean Valjean (a peerless Hugh Jackman) working off 20 years of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread, under the watchful eye of the duty-bound, law-abiding prig, Javert (Russell Crowe). Valjean, possessed of freakish strength (because he's really just Wolverine) is paroled but quickly finds the life of an ex-con is barely more tolerable than life on the inside. He takes refuge in a church, and is caught trying to liberate its healthy supply of silver.
But when the law returns Valjean to the Bishop (Colm Wilkinson), the Samaritan lies to protect him, seeing that the only chance Valjean and his soul have for redemption is if he has the money to buy himself a new identity. Breaking parole, Valjean disappears, becoming a sort of white whale for Javert.
When they cross paths again years later, Valjean is the mayor of a town and the owner of a seamstress factory where works Fantine, the mother of an illegitimate child. Her scornful co-workers get her fired and she's forced to become a prostitute. When Valjean meets her again he does his best to save her, though tuberculosis has already taken its toll. He puts himself in Javert's way again when he learns an innocent man, thought to be Valjean, is about to be imprisoned. Cover blown, Valjean spirits away Fantine's daughter Cosette and goes on the lam again for several more years -- only to find himself in the midst, and on the wrong side, of the 1832 June Rebellion. Things just get worse from there. It is called The Miserable, after all.
I Dreamed a Dream. French peasants sing (and hope) for a better life in the spectacular new film Les Miserables.
Singing the songs live, the performances from Jackman and Hathaway are tour de force-level amazing. There's no way "I Dreamed a Dream" doesn't put a lump in your throat, with Hathway's incredible rendition. Jackman was practically born to play this role, and the level of intensity he brings to it is nothing short of astonishing. Russell Crowe is surprisingly effective as Javert -- he can't sing like them, but he's still game to try.
The leitmotifs of the score wend and wane in between one memorable song after another and between them and Hugo's story, Les Miserables holds the audience firmly in its compelling grip.
Director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) goes too far, though, with an overbearing, misconceived visual style that starts out impressive but becomes almost numbing by the end. His camera swoops and arcs into Dutch angles and has a strange predilection for filling the screen with faces. Again, at first it's rather exciting and operatic but there are really no peaks or valleys; he's just got it turned up to 11 the whole time, which wears itself thin long before the films end.
Despite that lack of subtlety, though, Hooper and his cast have come together to tell an emotionally moving and unforgettable tale with a pair of performances that blew me away.
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