Film Of The Week: Django Unchained ★★★★★

Back from a long seasonal hiatus we resume our film review section in style. Our film of the week means the return to form of Quentin Tarantino, straight back to the heart of pulp by taking the Spaghetti Western genre by storm. Setting it during the times of slavery, the most shameful era in US history, Tarantino has delivered a spectacularly good film, his best since Jackie Brown, already touted by many as another masterpiece from one of the most essential contemporary directors.

Django Unchained shares a similar territory with Inglorious Basterds, both expanding the trademark elements that made of Tarantino such an influential cultural reference (His peculiar sense of humour; a collage of popular culture influences; comic-like violence; pick- and-mix soundtrack expertly selected from a broad range of sources) by taking over different film genres and boasting powerful statements against two of the most devastating chapters in the story of the world, the Nazi Germany in Basterds and slavery in the South of the States in Django. But wherever the irregular Inglorious Basterds was short of fulfilling its grand ambitions, Django Unchained achieves and even exceeds them.

Flaunting a superb four male lead cast, where the German dentist turned bounty hunter played in gloriously camp manner by Christoph Waltz manages to steal the show by a very narrow margin. Waltz is in terrific company with the slave he frees and makes his sidekick, Jamie Foxx; forming a perfect team of lone rangers who plot to find and rescue Django’s beloved wife, Brunhilde (Kerri Washington). They found her in the property of a sadistic plantation owner, Leo DiCaprio, whose house slave, a perfectly characterized Samuel L. Jackson, would come in the way of their scheme. On a less crowded year, the four of them would have been frontrunners in the awards season. And as usual in Tarantino movies, some fading acting veterans are given a new chance here. Namely, Don Johnson gets his comic chops on display as plantation owner Big Daddy. Franco Nero, the star of the original Italian sagas the film is inspired by, also gets a small role; so does Bruce Dern and Tarantino himself proviedes one of the many funny scenes.

Not one to please everyone’s taste, his personal approach has been proved controversial once more after some of the cultural leaders within the Afro-American community, Spike Lee among them, tagged it as disrespectful to their ancestors. But if the audacity of replacing the old-fashioned cinematic racial fights between cowboys and Indians with bounty hunters and slaves versus plantation owners and white racists,turning the division of roles between the bad and the good around wasn’t enough; at a whooping 165 minutes it never loses gas, thanks to a superbly calculated screenplay where everything falls into place.

The soundtrack is another of the film’s main assets, a mix of dark and vintage classics (some borrowed from original Django soundracks; some others paying tribute to master Morricone; James Brown & 2Pac and some MOR Americana by Jim Croce) with new tracks by the cream of contemporary rap & R&B stars (Rick Ross; Anthony Hamilton; John Legend), of which Frank Ocean superbly, purpose made ‘Wiseman’ has been famously left out for not fitting in well.

Altogether, it makes for a terrific viewing experience, one of those films that audiences will enjoy to watch once and again. Already counting with four Oscar and six Rober Awards nominations, including best picture and screenplay, to its avail; Django Unchained gives us plenty of reasons to celebrate one of our favourite filmmakers getting back on top of its game.

Other notable films released this week include “The Sessions” ★★★ based in the real story of writer Mark O’Brian, left paralyzed by polio as a kid, who decided to hired a surrogate to help him discover his sexuality. With a welcome use of humour as a way to take the drama off the situation, it deals warmly and compassionately with the “difficult” topic of the sex life for people with disabilities. It also benefits from three excellent performances by John Hawkes, who sadly missed an Oscar nomination for this superb role; Helen Hunt who happily is up for Oscar & Rober glory for her brave and honest turn as the sex surrogate and William H. Macy as the priest O’Brian confesses to, who provides most of the laughs. However, its typical saccharine-infused angle prevents it from becoming the great movie it could have been; Michael Winterbottom’ naturalistic experiment ‘Everyday’ ★★★ ½ , shot over five years to portrait the impact the imprisonment of a father has in the life of his family. An honest, moving and heartfelt work; after the successful 3D re-release of Beauty & The Beast’ set the trend, now is the turn for beloved Pixar classic Monsters Inc. ★★★★1/2” to get a 3D makeover. Still as fresh and impressive as when originally launched; and if you’re not too tired of the shaky cameras and low-production values of the faux “found footage” sub-genre “V/H/S” ★★1/2 offers some intermittently brilliant, scary moments on an overall rather boring effort.

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