Django Unchained: an entertaining, overly long disappointment (with a great soundtrack)

django unchainedI had my misgivings about watching a pirated version of Quentin Tarantino latest “Django Unchained”. It felt almost sacrilegious to watch the great man’s work on the small screen.

Tarantino’s films deserve the expensive big screen treatment, complete with popcorn and coke and maybe even chocolate.

Let me be clear: I didn’t pirate the movie myself, I was given a copy and as I say, I had my misgivings.

But to be honest, I might have felt a tad annoyed if I’d paid top dollar to see this film and popcorn charged at a 5000% mark-up.

It’s not his best.

It’s very long (some judicious editing would have helped and I’ve since read that it was the first film Tarantino has made without regular editor Sally Menke, who died in 2010).

And it’s got some very silly moments, the silliest by far being a ridiculous cameo by Tarantino himself, putting on a very bad Australian accent. What an Australian would be doing in the American wild west in the mid-1800s is the obvious question to ask, but given that it also added nothing to story or film, it made me wonder if Tarantino has got a little too clever for his own good.

But it is an entertaining film, a Western with almost as much violence and gore as Kill Bill (the blood literally explodes off bodies) has a lot of very good scenes and some great songs and atmospheric music; but as the sum of its parts, it does not quite work.

The plot is fairly straightforward:

Eccentric German bounty hunter Dr Schultz (Christoph Waltz) frees slave Django (Jamie Foxx) and invites him to become his partner and fellow outlaw killer and share in the spoils. As a reward for his services, Schultz promises to help Django rescue his wife, Brunhilde (a fellow slave brought up by German speakers, hence the name) from Cotton plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo Di Caprio) and his obsequious slave-hating butler Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), one of the nastiest characters put on film by Tarantino.

Along the way they kill a lot of people. there’s a lot of blood. A lot violence and gore.

There’s a couple of great cameos from the likes of Jonah Hill as part of a group of bungling Klu Klux Klansmen who complain about how badly their wives have cut the holes into their hoods so they can’t see anything; Don Johnson plays a suave, bigoted plantation owner;  and for Australian fans, Wolf Creek’s John Jarrett also pops up as another Australian somehow caught up in the American slave trade.

Christoph Waltz as Dr Schultz is the standout character for me. Jamie Fox as Django is physically impressive and also plays his part with the right amount of style and swagger, but for me Waltz is the star as the happy-go-lucky, but deadly-with-a-pistol bounty hunter, masquerading as a dentist, with a tooth bobbing on the top of his carriage. He plays the role with real panache and is also by far the most likeable character in the film; an enlightened European, he treats Django as an equal, while just about everyone else in the film (including slaves themselves) calls slaves “niggers” (Somewhere, someone has tallied up the number of times the “N” word is used in the film and it must in the 100s.

In his role as the bounty hunter, Waltz is almost the mirror image of Colonel Hans Lander, the smooth, despicably evil Nazi he played with Oscar-winning success in Inglorious Basterds. He is one of those actors that has real magnetism and the film is worth watching just for his performance alone.

Leonardo Di Caprio is good as the wealthy, manipulative plantation boss Calvin Candie, but it did a feel a little as if he was going through the motions in this role, drawing on past characters he’s played.

There’s also the usual snappy Tarantino dialogue through much of the film, especially in the early scenes between Django and Schultz, complimented by some beautiful shots of the American wilderness.

But it’s a disjointed, uneven film that would have been a better film were it shorter, more tightly made.

There’s the sense that Tarantino – the master film-maker and auteur that he is – can do anything and get away with it, hence his own silly Aussie cameo.

In the end he looks a bit foolish and completely out-of-place (and out of his depth I am sorry to say) not quite sure where to place himself on camera.

As for that accent – Strewth mate, you sound like a real drongo!

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‘Gadget’ peer pressure or “what’s that piece of cr*p you’re using?”

351571200_1db3e97f22_zI’ll come right out and say it. I don’t yet own a smartphone.

Shock. Gasp. Horror.

I still have one of those Nokia cheapies.

It’s not that bad.

You can search the web if you’re nostalgic and fancy recalling what dial-up internet used to be like… and it has maps that load up just as you reach your destination.

I also don’t own an ipad or any tablet, though I do have a kindle, which my wife bought me for my birthday.

Don’t get me wrong, I like gadgets and if money were no object I’d buy all of them, Stephen Fry-style, in one big splurge (I believe Fry has quite the gadget fetish and likes nothing more than to come home with a crate load of the latest techno gadgets).

I just seem to be making the transition to new technology a lot slower than most and delaying the capital outlay.

It took my wife and I an age to buy a flat screen digital television.

A year ago we were still watching movies on the equivalent of a postage stamp.

It was only when we realised that going to the movies  would be hard when our Edie was born (read my post: My eight months without cinema for more on this) that we splashed out and got a 42 inch beauty for a bit of the home cinema feel.

Funny thing is, some of the older technology is a better suited to my purposes.

For example, going for a run, the tiny little square ipod shuffle (the one Apple brought out in 2006 and are still selling) that weighs as much as a feather and is smaller than After Eight dinner mint is perfect for the task – why bother strapping a full-size ipod to your arm and running lopsided? (Actually, I’ve seen people wearing full-sized ipods or iphones on both arms to balance themselves out I imagine – no kidding.)06shuffle_earbuds

But I have to say, the pressure is rising and I am starting to feel like I’m living in the dark ages for all my lack of technological accoutrements.

It started with a phone call to a family member, which ended with me being admonished for not having an iphone.

“What? You don’t have an iphone?

“What kind of phone do you have?

“You have what?

“Jaysus.

“Well you better getter one.”

This was followed a few weeks later with this somewhat bitter aside: “You know, if you had an iphone or a Samsung Galaxy I could send you a photo of what I am describing right away?”

“So…when are you getting one?”

Then over dinner with friends a couple of weeks ago “You know you should really get a smartphone. You’re a journalist. You’re a blogger. You really need one.”

And then in the office earlier this week, I was ambushed by my colleagues “You mean, you don’t have an ipad or an iphone?”

Snigger, snigger.

Joke about wife not letting me buy one.

Snigger, snigger.

OK, everyone just calm down. Put away your “Steve Jobs RIP” banners. I get the message.

Yes I know:

  • I’m the only one on the train who doesn’t whip out his smartphone to tap out a message, update their Facebook status or tweet a thought for the day.
  • Yes there are old grannies with perms and tissues tucked under their hand knitted jerseys that can swipe across a smartphone screen faster than flip through a magazine.
  • And yes, the rumours are true, they’ve started giving out an iphone and a book of McDonald’s baby happy meal vouchers (haven’t you heard of the McSlop?) with all new babies born in Australia?

Truth be told I do find myself paging longingly through store catalogues and admiring the phones and tablets on offer, but then when I see the prices or the contracts and the monthly fees I tell myself I can manage another month with my piddling device.

I recall the very first mobile phone my father had.

It was the size 0f a mini rocket launcher and weighed as much as a brick. It could just squeeze into his bedside draw and had a long aerial that you pulled out army style. Boy, was it cool!21581808_45a7b5da91

Flashing forward in time…I’m sitting on court number one at Wimbledon, pork pie in hand, jealously studying a bloke in sunglasses and a tan, snooty girl-friend on his arm, checking his email on a small squarish device called Blackberry.

Whatever happened to those? Apparently even child soldiers in Africa refuse to use them.

But I know it’s only a matter of time before I’m tapping away on a palm-sized gadget, making 1970s-faux images with Instagram and sending witty tweets about advertising slogans while walking around the city during my lunch break.

Hopefully I won’t end up as one of those freakish stories you read about in a little item on page 12 of Mx: man hit by bus while crossing road, laughing at silly photo of monkey wearing underpants on his head on facebook.

Tap tap.