Django Unchained [2012] – Movie Review

Django Unchained Poster

It seems 2012 is the year for Hollywood slavery movies. Quentin Tarantino’s foray into the Western movie genre with Django Unchained is the polar opposite of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, both movies about the American slavery era. While Lincoln is about the political scene that led to the abolishing of slavery, Django goes loose in a totally different manner.

Django (Jamie Foxx) is a black slave who gets rescued and freed by German-born bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) who is on the hunt for the murderous Brittle brothers and only Django can help him find them. Django’s goal, however, isn’t to kill as many wanted white men as possible. It is to find and rescue his wife Broomhilda (played excellently by Scandal’s Kerry Washington) who is enslaved in a plantation called “Candieland” owned by a francophile who speaks no French called Calvin Candie (Leonardo Dicaprio) with his self-hating black butler named Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).

Stylistically, Django Unchained is daring. The movie’s frames, shots, camera movements are unusual. The amount of gore and blood are also quite proficient. All of this is to be expected from a Tarantino movie who, as usual, delivers a riveting piece of cinema that will keep you hooked for over 160 minutes.

Tarantino, who appears in the movie in a cameo scene towards the end, wrote this movie as well. While the story isn’t very new and the overall ambiance is fairly typical for the Western genre, it’s the execution that makes up for it here. You can’t help but marvel at the technical execution of many of the movie’s scenes. Django Unchained is very bold in more than one way, notably as it showcases in subtle shades of drama mixed with comedy the horrors of slavery and racism.

The movie’s acting highlight is Leonardo DiCaprio who gives a tour de force performance of his character. In a way, while the movie goes off to a good start, it doesn’t find its footing until DiCaprio’s character comes into the picture to help make things much more interesting. Both Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx are great in their respective characters, excelling in scenes that find the two working together towards their goal, the latter with his comedic tendencies and the former with his sharp ability to navigate between cruelty and compassion in a heartbeat. Samuel L. Jackson makes his best at making his character downright unlikeable. You will hate that butler-slave. In a way, the Django-Shchultz duo is the polar opposite of Candie-Stephen.

Despite being un-needingly violent at times and despite being overly drawn-out towards the end as the movie tries to reach its conclusion, Django Unchained is at the end of the day Tarantino’s take on an era of American history that few Americans want to remember. Django’s charm isn’t that it’s fast-paced, keeping you hooked all the time. It’s all in its characters. Dr. Schultz isn’t mystified by Django’s humanity. He sees it clearly and is taken by it. He clearly knows that slavery is bad, not for political reasons but for humanitarian purposes, which is where Django and Lincoln veer off thematically. Django isn’t resigned to his fate – he is resilient, always fighting, always aspiring for more, always opposing the likes of Candie and Stephen who want to bring people like him down.

And it is here that Django Unchained excels: in seeing all those different personalities interact on screen. Towards the end, you forget that the movie has had about five thousand bullets fired and a growing casualty north of three hundred deaths (I did not count). The only thing that remains fixed is that these people whose lives you’re seeing unfold (or end) in front of you are highly interesting, to a backdrop of a very eclectic musical soundtrack and the vision of a director who makes the aforementioned historical era entirely his own.

4/5

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Rango – Movie Review


Rango starts when a pet chameleon (Johnny Depp), after trying to orchestrate a very fancy looking play with a plastic fish and beheaded doll, gets stranded in the Mojave desert after he falls from his owner’s car. There, the chameleon (who is still nameless at this point), dazed and confused narrowly avoids getting killed by a hawk. Then, the chameleon meets an iguana named Beans (Isla Fisher) who takes him to the desert town: Dirt.

In Dirt, the chameleon finds the opportunity to be whatever he wants. He chooses to be Rango, a westerner marksman, and moments later, when the hawk comes back to terrorize the town, Rango kills him by firing a lucky shot that gets an empty water tower to squash the hawk.

However, soon after their arrival to Dirt, Beans discovers that the water reserves are dangerously low, which prompts her to ask Rango, who gets appointed sheriff, to investigate the matter. Rango undertakes her request and as the movie progresses, you find out the water issue is more complex and twisted than any of them first imagined: control the water and you control everything.

Rango is not your typical animated movie. It is definitely not something for the kids. After all, how many times do you hear the words “prostate exam”, “I’m ready to mate” and so on in a cartoon? The movie is a celebration of everything that is Western. There’s even a Clint Eastwood sort of appearance, just to top it all.

Johnny Depp is brilliant as the voice of Rango. The chameleon who embodies many personalities, depending on how he sees fit, needed an actor as versatile to give him life. And Johnny Depp does not fail at this. He plays well on screen with Isla Fisher, who has come a long way from being a shopaholic, with her impeccable western accent.

Director Gore Verbinski, known mostly for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, strings this movie together as an overall tribute to the western genre. There are hints from many famous western movies in Rango that anyone who’s a fan of the genre would pick up. Add to that the brilliant work of Hans Zimmer on the score, as well as screenwriter John Logan, and the movie becomes a very strong movie overall.

Rango is not a very pretty movie in the sense that animated movies are almost always aimed at providing audiences with a cute looking hero/heroin before anything else. Here, even the good people are cringe-worthy when it comes to the cuteness element, which goes to show how much the creators of Rango did not waver in them wanting to make an animated movie that’s not addressed to a particular audience, but one that fit their vision. Rango is a movie with many firsts. This the animators’ first animated movie and the director’s first animated movie as well. But you don’t feel that it’s a movie of firsts when you watch it because everyone involved gives it their all to make it as good as it could be. And yes, it is good.

True Grit – Movie Review

Let me start by saying that I am not a fan of westerns. Telling the story of a one-eyed Marshall helping a young girl to find her dad’s murderer, the movie transcends the Western stereotype I have come to associate with similar movies and found it to be a really enjoyable movie at that.

The Coen brothers’ remake of the 1969 original movie is remarkable, currently nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards with its lead actor and actress nominated for their roles as well.

I will not go into the plot of the movie apart from painting out a general picture. Marshall Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) is hired by 14 year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) to kill her father’s murderer. On their path, they meet up with a Texas ranger La Boeuf (Matt Damon) and together, the continue on their path to find the murderer, overcoming many hurdles.

What is really interesting in the movie is the community they are living in. I’m not sure how accurate a representation the movie is of a 19th century American Western community but the way law was enforced back then is quite fascinating. It it what moves the characters: their will to see justice enforced, regardless of how we currently view justice to be. Do you believe Mattie’s pursuit to kill her dad’s murderer is justified? or is she a hate-blinded fourteen year old? Do you believe Marshall Cogburn is a ruthless man who only seeks money or is he a compassionate person who really wants to see the killer brought to justice?

Jeff Bridges delivers a very strong performance. I cannot draw comparisons to his role in “Crazy Heart” which garnered him an Academy Award. But I have to say, I thought this was a more engaging performance. He delivers his sharp dialogue with a brilliant efficiency, helping the movie in its slow moments. Moreover, his embodiment of the “father-figure” for Mattie is filled with subtle nuances which make him assuming this role quite enjoyable to watch.

The breakthrough here, however, is the amazing Hailee Steinfeld. To say this teenager shines as Mattie Ross is the understatement of the year. Nominated for a supporting actress at the Academy Awards, I believe she belongs in the leading actress category. She is the movie. She is the main acting-driving force. Young as she might be, the other two men rarely do something without her approval – and it isn’t because she’s paying them. She portrays a very strong character and does so marvelously. In my opinion, her acting is the highlight of the movie.

All in all, True Grit might not be my favorite movie this year – especially with all the high-caliber movies that have been released. But True Grit excels at what it’s meant to be: provide an enjoyable Western movie that helps break out the misconceptions some people might have about the genre, while serving as a vehicle for its acting personnel to shine. Look out for a possible Hailee Steinfeld upset at the Oscars this year.