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Tarantino 'Django' unreined

Published February 15. 2013 05:03PM

"Django Unchained," with five Oscar nominations, has been on my must-see list of movies in theatrical release.

Still, there was trepidation about seeing "Django Unchained." I delayed seeing Quentin Tarantino's latest opus and an opus it is because of advance word about its depiction of graphic violence and the extensive use of the "N" word.

That said, "Django Unchained" deserves the Oscar Picture, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz), Cinematography and Sound Editing nominations.

"Django" is a genre mash-up: from Hollywood studio system western movies (notably, director John Sturges' "The Magnificent Seven," 1960) to Spaghetti Westerns (westerns made overseas, usually by director Sergio Leone and often in Italy or Spain, starting with "A Fistful of Dollars," 1964, inspired by Akira Kurosawa's "Yojimbo," 1961), to the uber-violence of director Sam Peckinpah ("The Wild Bunch," 1969) and 1970's "blaxploitation" flicks ("Shaft," 1971, one of the first).

Elements from these films: cowboys riding horses or at a campfire against a classic western landscape tableau, a legal authority figure operating on the trigger edge of the law, a mysterious loner on a quest, a budget for an amount of fake blood squibs that could finance an indie film, and African-Americans obtaining power are part of the Tarantino mix.

The results serve Tarantino's story line about a bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), who buys the freedom of a slave, Django (Jamie Foxx), and convinces him to accompany him for a winter of bounty-hunting.

After that, Schultz promises he will go to a Mississippi plantation to locate Django's wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). The plantation is owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose head slave is Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson, almost unrecognized in gray-hair, balding, and makeup of an elderly person).

The story, we're told, takes place in 1858, two years before the Civil War. "Django Unchained" is the other slide of the movie "Lincoln."

Tarantino uses title cards, subtitles (when German is spoken between Schultz and Broomhilda, one of the screenplay's many original gambits); music from and inspired by Ennio Morricone ("The Big Risk") and pop music (Jim Croce's "I Got a Name"). There are all kind of Tarantino "in" movie references, including a cameo by Franco Nero, who starred in "Django" (1966), the inspiration for "Django Unchained."

DiCaprio has great fun in an over-the-top role as a southern gentleman with a heart of darkness.

Foxx is in fine form as the understated Django, just hinting at the vengeance bubbling below the surface.

Washington is a revelation: keen, ravishing and clearly the object of desire while maintaining a sense of grace and dignity.

Waltz again steals the show as the humorous but all-business bounty-hunter. His scenes with Foxx are the core of the movie's strength.

To be sure, "Django Unchained" is all over the place. It's a semi-cohesive work. Hence, the Oscar director category snub of Tarantino is somewhat justified. "Django Unchained" is very entertaining, often laugh out-loud funny, sometimes exhilarating, has wince-inducing violence and so many "N" words it would make Spike Lee's head spin.

Tarantino ("Inglourious Basterds," "Kill Bill: Vol. 1, 2," "Jackie Brown," "Pulp Fiction," "Reservoir Dogs") often reaches beyond his grasp. But what a reach. Tarantino's film-making strength is that he's perhaps the most audacious movie director working today.

Tarantino's movies have a Shakespearean sensibility of character and import. Tarantino's dialogue has the ring of Mark Twain. Schultz and Django are a kind of Huckleberry Finn and Jim of the wild, wild south.

"Django Unchained" is not Tarantino's best, but it confirms him as one of cinema's great stylists.

So, put aside any qualms you may have and see "Django Unchained."

"Django Unchained," MPAA Rated R (Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian) for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity; Genre: Adventure, Drama, Romance; Run time: 2 hrs., 45 min.; Distributed by The Weinstein Company.

Credit Readers Anonymous: "Django Unchained" was filmed on location in Louisiana, Wyoming and California. Stay to the very end of the credits for a scene with a parody of the line from TV's "The Lone Ranger" (1949 - '57): "Who was that ... ?"

Box Office, Feb. 8: "Identity Thief" opened at No. 1, with $36.5 million, shoving "Warm Bodies" to No. 2, $11.5 million, $36.6 million, two weeks, with "Side Effects" opening at No. 3, $10 million.

4. "Silver Linings Playbook," $6.9 million, $90 million, 13 weeks; 5. "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters," $5.7 million, $43.8 million, three weeks; 6. "Mama," $4.3 million, $64 million, four weeks; 7. "Zero Dark Thirty," $4 million, $83.6 million, eight weeks; 8. "Argo," $2.5 million, $123.7 million, 18 weeks; 9. "Django Unchained," $2.2 million, $154.5 million, seven weeks; 10. "Bullet to the Head," $1.9 million, $8.1 million, two weeks.

Unreel, Feb.15:

"A Good Day to Die Hard," R: Bruce Willis returns as John McClane who travels to Russia to help his son Jack, a CIA agent working to prevent a nuclear-weapons theft in the action thriller, the fifth in the series.

"Beautiful Creatures," PG-13: The first installment in a movie from the four-book series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is about a young man who meets a mysterious girl in a small southern town in the fantasy-romance. Viola Davis and Emma Thompson star.

"Safe Haven," PG-13: Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel star in the romantic-thriller about a young woman with an uncertain past who meets a widower. Lasse Hallstrom directs.

"Escape from Planet Earth," PG: Brendan Fraser, Sarah Jessica Parker and Jessica Alba provide voices in the animated sci-fi adventure about an astronaut and an alien planet.

Read previous movie reviews by Paul Willistein at the Times-News web site. Email Paul Willistein and on Facebook.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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