BY EMILY GAGNE AND MICHELLE MEDFORD
Two weeks back, we got to live a Royale with Cheese of a day. We got to attend an advanced screening of the latest movie from our favourite director with the director in attendance. The movie was Django Unchained. The director? Modern cinema’s original BAMF, Quentin Tarantino. (We know. We’re still doing the twist in the Jack Rabbit Slim’s of our minds.)
At first we were considering doing one review, written by one person. But after the screening, we were all abuzz, bursting with individualistic raves for the slavery era revenge epic. So we decided to make like those radical babes from Death Proof and tag team this basterd — er, bastard! We like to think QT would be proud.
WHAT A BASTERD!
E: No matter which way you shake it, Django Unchained is bound to be compared to QT’s most recent “masterpiece” Inglourious Basterds. It’s certainly much closer to that work than any of his others, containing a mainly linear story focused on a set of dudes (Jamie Foxx’s ex-slave Django and Christoph Waltz’s slavery-hating bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz) trying to take down a corrupt, racist figure (Leo DiCaprio’s sassy slave owner Calvin Candie). I suppose it could also be compared to the second half of Death Proof too. (Slap a wig and a Kiwi accent on Waltz and call him Zoe!) However, the scale of this revenge plot is much more grandiose and gory, featuring a death count that, well, is too big to count.
Honestly, I think Basterds is a better film overall, thanks to the familiarity of the villains (who wasn’t happy to see the Bear Jew repeatedly shoot Hitler?) and the blatant cinephilia. But if this is the direction QT’s headed in from now on, I’m all in. Dude’s always spoken for the underdogs in one way or another, but he’s at his best when the message is explicit, splattering across your face like the ravaged remains of a Crazy 88.
M: I have to agree with Em on this; my personal fave is Basterds. But that’s just personal. While I love both Django and Basterds to no end, they work in different ways. The two films have very different approaches to narrative and perspective. In Basterds, we’re told the story through several alternating viewpoints and follow different strands of motives. In Django, it’s all about, well, who else, Django. If he doesn’t know it, we don’t know it, and anything anyone else does in their lives is irrelevant if it’s not directly related to our main character. Each way’s got its advantages and disadvantages: In Basterds we get a more complete picture but a less personal story and vice versa in Django.
But it’s also, like Em said, about the villain (not to say that one evil is greater than other). In Basterds, we have a face and name behind the terror, so goals a little more clear-cut. In Django, we have more of a representation of terror, which, if defeated, wouldn’t put an end to it all. But then, at risk of sounding like I’m just having an argument with myself, there’s also an additional thread to Django that Basterds doesn’t have (though doesn’t really need). I could talk to myself in circles about this for hours, really.
An interesting last thought on this topic though, Taratino’s been entertaining the idea of a trilogy. His words: “As different as they are, there is a companion piece quality. There might very well be a third one. I just don’t know what it is yet.” If you haven’t already begun thinking about what that might be, I know you are now.
TAKE THIS, (CHRISTOPH) WALTZ
E: So what if this movie is named after Foxx’s character? I thought this was Waltz’s movie. Building off the giddily gut-wrenching giantess that he established with Col. Landa (his character in Basterds), Waltz is flippant and fearless as Django‘s Dr. King. Although he uses similar mannerisms and line deliveries to the ones he used as Landa, he manages to achieve the opposite effect as he did there, immediately endearing you to the way-wacky character. It’s fascinating, not to mention hella entertaining, to watch, and a true testament to why Tarantino seems to be adopting him as his new muse. Like QT, CW can jump from genre-to-genre effortlessly.
WHAT A STONE FOXX!
M: Before this film, I wouldn’t really call myself a Jamie Foxx fan, though I wouldn’t say I wasn’t either (note: I haven’t seen Ray, but I do like In Living Color). Now, well, I guess I still wouldn’t profess to be a fan of his (yet), but I will tell everyone: “He was amazing in Django.” If I’m being honest, when I first heard that he was cast as a lead in this movie way back when, I was apprehensive. People in QT’s movie’s are edgy, quirky, cool, and I can’t say those were the words that first came to mind when I heard his name (actually, the words I heard were, “She take my money, when I’m in need…”). But he unexpectedly and wildly-surpassingly impressed me in Django. He didn’t hold back. He was at times vulnerable, taunting, restrained and heroic. He was exactly what he needed to be and the HFPA seriously needs to wake up.
THE CANDIE MAN (A.K.A. HOW’D LEO DO?)
E: There were countless things to look forward to going into this movie, but DiCaprio playing his first villain ever was most definitely the biggest one for me. Naturally, the repeated Oscar nominee didn’t disappoint one bit. He’s not afraid to own up to Candie’s wretchedly rotten nature, spitting out his hateful gibe with pissy, pithy glory and proudly flashing his comically blackened teeth (Calvin loves his candy!). One scene in particular will crush the previously-established DiCaprio-centric part of your skull to pieces. It’s not unlike the cream scene from Basterds, but with Django and Schultz taking Shoshanna’s terrified place.
M: I’ve never seen a DiCaprio movie I didn’t like, and, furthermore, never seen a DiCaprio performance that wasn’t impressive. I’m not about the say that this wasn’t impressive, because it was beyond words, but there was something about it that I wasn’t so sure about, so I’ve been trying to figure it out. First of all, his costume and hair are spot on. Since I saw those first few Django stills, his get-up has been unforgettable. Also, his rotted teeth are the best accessory of all. His delivery is great, his lines sting and his accent is just fine. It’s also definitely not his body language, because I watched a clip of him on mute and if you thought he was impressive when you could hear him, you’ll be even more in awe when you’re just focussing on his actions. So, after excessive and exhaustive thought (and it seems too obvious now), I realized that DiCaprio is just strongest when he’s going through emotional turmoil (think Inception, Revolutionary Road, Romeo + Juliet). But that being said, his Django performance is still an A+ for me; his emotional performances are just A++.
LIFE AFTER SALLY MENKE
E: As you may know, QT’s token editor suddenly passed away back in 2010. Django is the first directorial project he’s done without her in, well, forever. While there are some definite Sally touches in the cut, especially in the Crazy 88-echoing plasma party of a first finale (there are several, some purposeful fake-outs), there’s a certain random eagerness that’s missing. There are more long-shots than jump cuts. There are no act title cards either. I suppose those things are as much QT’s choice as they were Sally’s, but I’ve read that Quentin’s motto was “What Would Sally Do?” in the editing room. Personally, I think Sally would have found at least a few minutes to lop off somewhere. (The movie is three solid hours!)
M: An amazing soundtrack and a QT movie go hand-in-hand. Of course, this movie’s no exception. Let’s start with one of Em’s fave: the James Brown/2Pac mashup “Unchained (The Payback/Untouchable).” I’m also a huge fan of mash-ups, and this one’s just perfectly brilliant and fitting. I really feel like just listing names of the great artists with great, original tracks on the soundtrack (released this week, by the way–take note, Santa), like Rick Ross, John Legend, and Anthony Hamilton and Elayna Boynton. And obviously the titular “Django” by Luis Bacalov. Plus, some Ennio Morricone tracks, similar to those in Basterds (another connection). But the movie also features some great songs not on the soundtrack, including this perfectly fitting and gritty Johnny Cash song “Ain’t No Grave.” I’ll just stop now (but you don’t understand how tempted I am to continue). You can listen to it all here.
THE FINAL GRADE
E: Hilarious, heartfelt and wrapped in a fake blood bow, Django Unchained is the perfect Christmas present for any Tarantino, DiCaprio or Waltz fan.
M: Another gorgeous, glorious and gory addition to Taratino’s roster, and one I’m sure I’ll be re-watching several thousand times.