Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Glimpse of Django Unchained

By Steve Evans

Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz team up to fight Leonardo DiCaprio’s evil slave owner in Django Unchained, an upcoming revisionist Western by Quentin Tarantino, the leading practitioner of flat-out-wrong history in the service of exploitation cinema.

Miramax just released these stills from the film, which is set for a Christmas Day opening:

Foxx plays the liberated slave of the title who joins forces with a bounty hunter (Waltz) in an odyssey across the Antebellum South. Their quest involves finding Django’s wife, the improbably named Broomhilda, now owned by the wicked Calvin Candie (DiCaprio, sporting a Mephistophelean goatee). Tarantino regulars Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell provide support, along with Don Johnson, legendary makeup artist Tom Savini and Borat, um, Sacha Baron Cohen. Because this is a Tarantino film, when Django catches up with Calvin you know blood is gonna flow like Ol' Man River.

Revenge is the recurring and dominant theme in all of Tarantino’s films, which are looking progressively better as his budgets have increased. Waltz and Foxx, in particular, come off especially bad-ass in their Old West garb. Check out the bowler and tiered duster on Waltz, who could bring back fashions from the 19th century and make them popular once more with just his attitude.

No matter. Fine costumes and production values cannot obscure the fact that Tarantino’s one-note oeuvre becomes more preposterous with each film he makes. Here’s hoping Django Unchained marks a return to form. Let this picture be as taut, crazed, politically incorrect, hilariously profane and violent as his best work, which for my money is still his first picture, Reservoir Dogs (1992).

Tarantino launched himself 20 years ago as a genuine maverick with a disappointing penchant for producing derivative films. It is a well-known fact among those who care about such things that even his finest film, Reservoir Dogs, is little more than a mash-up of Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing, John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle and the original Taking of Pelham 1,2,3, with some references to obscure Japanese thrillers thrown in to season the stew. Tarantino took the basic ingredients of better films, ramped up the profanity and violence, and called it macaroni. Audiences said “cool” and Tarantino basked in the wonder of it all. In the years since, after breathing too deeply of his own fumes and indulging too often in his own fan worship, the man still makes derivative films that are now as silly as his own chatterbox interviews.

Tarantino movies have all the substance of a dove feather, but to be fair, they’re often ridiculously entertaining -- at least for one viewing. It depends on your appetite and mood. A cheeseburger and cold beer are not in the same league as duck à l'orange and Veuve Clicquot, but both will take the edge off your hunger and slake your thirst.

So get back to where you once belonged, Tarantino. Grill me a cheeseburger, bloody rare, and pop a beer. You really need to get mean and nasty and daring with your audience once more. Push it to the edge (well, at least to the outer limits of a contracturally-obligated R-rating). Rub our noses in your Mandingo outrageousness and we’ll buy tickets, if for no other reason than many of us are bored. The sorry truth is most contemporary cinema is a snore. But knock it off already with the self-indulgence. You’re not the equal of Kubrick, Clouzot or Pabst, even though you like to name-check the masters. Just entertain us for a couple of hours with that pluperfect dialog you write so well and give up trying to make some kind of lasting artistic statement. Do that, and that'll do.

Oh, and to Waltz: love the coat.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2012 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

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