Posted by: smirkdirk | January 10, 2013

Django Unchained

I have to say that Django Unchained is the movie I enjoyed most in the last year – and certainly the only movie I’ve happily paid to see two times. (Okay, the second time was really to take the teenager who I knew would eat it up – but still, I was happy and it rocked.)

But for Christopher Waltz’s performance, Tarantino’s last movie, Inglorious Basterds, didn’t do a whole lot for me. In Django, which shares many thematic similarities, he moves the action from the WWII Europe to the American South during slavery and finds a groove that fascinates with, dare I say, originality. The slavery aspect is something few movies have the balls to take on outside of “important films” like Amistad and Roots. Tarantino not only takes it on but takes it on outside of the “important film” conventions. I would classify Django as a distinct entity not only outside of the most films, but even outside of other Tarantino movies.

Much has already been made of the Spaghetti Western conventions and homages he employs in Django, but less has been made of the blaxploitation conventions he employs in the movie. And not just any blaxploitation conventions but a specific sub-genre in the 70’s that actually was aimed towards a black audience- the slave revenge fantasy. Two movies in particular stand out “Drum” available on Netflix and Amazon Prime for free with Pam Grier, and “Mandingo” which is on Prime for free.

As a long-time fan of trash, when I first came across these movies a few years ago they actually shocked me, because they are pretty brazen. I should have known Tarantino would have raided them.

To give you an idea of the content of these movies I submit Roger Ebert’s Zero Star review of Mandingo which will either make you rush out and find a copy to watch pronto, or run the other way. There’s really no middle ground. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19750725/REVIEWS/808289998/1023

That said, I’m on the fence about the third act. I was completely engrossed and suddenly the movie ran off of its own rail – and jumped to another rail. From that point on it didn’t feel like the same great movie, it felt like a different great movie – which, despite greatocity, is still a problem.

Samuel Jackson’s character has also been a point of contention. My two cents? I thought the character was brilliant. On the surface he comes off like a racist caricature right down to looking like he walked off of the Uncle Ben’s box. (How do you know Uncle Ben’s going to heaven? Because he’s been converted. Haha) Jackson’s Uncle Ben is all writing checks and stuff, and in some private moments with Dicaprio’s character, he actually seems to be the one in charge of that relationship. This coincides interestingly with Waltz and Django – in fact, it appears both sets of characters are brilliant teams of manipulators using what they appear to be and people’s assumptions to their own advantage. Dicaprio/Jackson are really just an another version of Waltz/Foxx.

However, in that third act I’ve already mentioned, Jackson’s character becomes more decidedly Samuel-L-Jackson-esque. Almost to the point of, dare I say, Snakes on a Plantation.

In closing, I need some more time to decide but it may ascend to my favorite Tarantino flick after Pulp Fiction.

Some links:

This is the moment when, while watching Quentin Tarantino’s campy new slave-revenge movie, a person of color begins to feel uncomfortable with the way white people around them are laughing at the horrors onscreen. http://gawker.com/5971346/the-django-moment-or-when-should-white-people-laugh-in-django-unchained

Slavery inherently involved those things but the cartoonish way in which they are depicted will offend many. I felt alienated and insulted by “Django Unchained”, an immensely humiliating and deeply offensive film. http://www.popcornreel.com/htm/djangorev.html

Great 3-part conversation between Henry Louis Gates and QT http://www.theroot.com/views/tarantino-unchained-part-1-django-trilogy?page=0,0

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