Django Unchained: Big, crazy, and hugely entertaining

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Quentin Tarantino continues to justify his superstar status on the world’s cinema stage with latest film Django Unchained, his brilliant, bloody and thrillingly unpredictable revenge western about a freed slave unleashing hell on his plantation-owning enemies in the pre-Civil War American South of 1858.

Sort of an artistic companion piece to his audacious, history rewriting Second World War epic Inglourious Basterds, the film once again sees him taking a serious subject matter and moulding it into a deranged alternate universe, one in which the barbarity of a heinous system of oppression is exposed and cathartically avenged in ruthless and savage fashion.

Writer/Director Tarantino has paid his unique homage to plenty of genres before now; the gangster (Pulp Fiction), martial arts (Kill Bill: Vols 1 & 2), the grindhouse horror (Death Proof). Now he’s revived the spaghetti western with his usual fanboy enthusiasm.

In Django Unchained, German bounty hunter Dr Schultz (Christoph Waltz) buys and frees a slave called Django (Jamie Foxx). In exchange for Django’s help in identifying three men with big bounties on their heads, Schultz agrees to help him find and free his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from whom he’s been forcibly and maliciously separated. Shultz, a loquacious, progressive, cultivated fellow who abhors slavery is pretty much the closest thing the film has to a character with a modern perspective and he frequently threatens to steal the movie.

Unfortunately for Django, his wife is working on the notorious Candyland plantation in the Deep South of Mississippi, owned by one Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) who enjoys nothing more than sweets and blood sports in equal measure.

As per usual, Tarantino uses his specific brand of comic violence – almost as much as he uses uninterrupted, drawn-out monologues. There are gallons of blood, exploding body parts and unflinching cruelty.

As the garrulous Schultz, Christoph Waltz essentially plays a benevolent version of his wily-tongued Nazi from Inglourious Basterds. Schultz has a respect for procedural correctness as well as violence: when he reaches into his jacket, you never know if he will produce a gun or a warrant.

Jamie Foxx, however, has less to work with as Django, even once he begins searching for his enslaved wife. He gets jazzy comic notes to play, savouring his freedom by wearing a dandyish royal-blue suit as he rides through a cotton plantation, but the film grinds him down – in all honesty, he’s a bit of a bore.

His plantation-working wife isn’t much better – Broomhilda is severely underwritten and her character never really shines through the trauma she endures.

Lucky for us, then, that Di Capri and Jackson are on hand to distract us from this problem- Leo’s portrayal of the bubbling sadism beneath the plantation owner’s charming veneer is spine-chillingly good while Jackson’s turn as Candie’s doddering henchmen, complete with oldage make-up and a frosting of white hair, also adds to the edge of unpredictable menace.

Primarily, however, this is a Tarantino film. Yes, he’s stuck reverentially to genre stalwarts, but you only need to see that the soundtrack features a James Brown/2Pac amalgamation to know this is no traditional spaghetti western. Although it’s too long and arguably self-indulgent, it’s big, crazy, and hugely entertaining.

A fierce but fiercely intelligent testament to Tarantino’s frequently questioned filmmaking proclivities and certainly among the best films he’s ever made.

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The Avengers: an absolute Marvel

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With Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spiderman still to hit cinemas, it’s looking like a definitive year for superhero movies as The Avengers storms the big screen and wins over critics across the globe.

The premise of the movie is simplistic – bad guy Loki hatches world-domination scheme, petulant but kind-heated good guys swoop in to save the day, Scarlett Johansson in leather looks damn hot. But somehow, somewhere along the way, it becomes a lot more than that.

Six gifted and special people, Iron Man (Downey Jr), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), have to come together despite their differences to stand against Loki, a Norse deity hell-bent on ruling the earth with an iron fist.

Usually, movies that feature an abundance of big name stars are not to my taste. Take, for example, New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day – lots of stars, not a lot of substance. The Avengers, I’m happy to report, is nothing like either of those films.

The cast, which features Hollywood A-listers such as Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L Jackson and Gwyneth Paltrow, meld fantastically with each other and with the storyline.

Prior to The Avengers, we saw Iron Man 1 and 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America. Each of these films, while not to be seen as prequels, did indeed do the job they were created to do – they gave the main Avengers depth, backstory, and character while being box office success stories in their own right. Granted, Black Widow and Hawkeye were left out of this process and, as such, weren’t developed as much as they could have been, but I see that as an unfortunate casualty of an otherwise fantastic development process.

Though I do genuinely love this new method, I have to note that some of the previous Marvel Movies weren’t quite up to scratch. It seemed as if the Captain America installment was not as thought out as either Iron Man or The Hulk and that it was only there to fill the gap until the 2012 release of The Avengers. I also thought that Thor, though it was a joy to behold 114 minutes of Chris Hemsworth, was a bit of a let down in places.

But whether it’s down to the previous films, the stellar cast, or Joss Whedon’s scriptwriting prowess, The Avengers itself is clearly the best
Marvel Movie to date. The acting is near impeccable, the action is raw and the jokes are hilarious. Stark is his usual cheeky self, Bruce Banner is broodingly deep and Thor is just as beautiful as he ever was. There’s also something disturbingly attractive about terrifically entertaining Asguard bad boy Loki played by the fantastic Tom Hiddleson who, according to many critics ‘steals the show’.

Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk was also a breath of fresh air in this sneakily unique heavy hitter. He gives his character more depth than either Eric Bana OR Edward Norton (something I never thought I’d admit) and is both endearing and heart-wrenching in his portrayal of Bruce Banner. Instead of going for the “woe is me, I get angry and smash things” angle, his manner and acting style hint towards a deeper, more depressing self-loathing.

What I like about the film, is that it deviates from the traditional ‘Good vs Evil’ trend just the right amount. There’s the bad guy, obviously, and the quest to save humanity… but there’s also some interesting in-fighting and tension between avengers. It’s clear that they all come from different moral standpoints, and I think Joss Whedon did a great job using that to his advantage.

I also like the fact that it does exactly what it says on the tin. Here’s a Marvel Movie for people who like action movies, for people who like Marvel Comics, for people who always played the “Who would win in a fight…” game and, of course, for people who want to drool over Chris Hemsworth and Scarlett Johansson.

If you see nothing else this month, go see this. You won’t be disappointed.

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