Film Review: Django Unchained

This review was originally published on The Orange Post on Thursday 31st January 2013.

There are very few filmmakers on my must-see list. Regardless of the stars or story, I will be first in line to see anything from Christopher Nolan, Sam Raimi and Steven Spielberg. The other director on my list is one Quentin Tarantino and so it was with high expectations that I wandered into my local megaplex to experience Django Unchained.

Slavery seems to be the theme du jour in Hollywood. In a few weeks we’ll have Daniel Day Lewis impersonating a statue in Spielberg’s Lincoln but first up is QT’s exploration of revenge set four years before the Civil War.

Jamie Foxx plays the titular character, freed from slavery by bounty hunter and former dentist Dr King Shultz (Christoph Waltz). Initially a commercial arrangement in order to track down a trio of criminals, their relationship grows and soon they are working together to locate Django’s lost wife, Broomhilda, now a slave for Leonardo DiCaprio’s nefarious cotton plantation owner, Calvin Candie.

What follows is a highly enjoyable romp that, similar to QT’s previous film Inglourious Basterds, suffers from an identity crisis. The film opens with a vintage Columbia Film logo, which echoes Tarantino’s previous fixation on blaxploitation cinema. After all, Django’s surname is “Von Shaft”. Following that comes the modern Weinstein Company logo, immediately jarring you back to present day.

The film itself carries on with this thematic mishmash, with no element sitting comfortably with the other. There’s broad comedy, followed by explicit gun violence. We have historically accurate depictions of slavery and punishment alongside fictional mandingo fighting. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be a little bit uncomfortable, possibly all at the same time.

Broadly speaking, Django Unchained is a southern (not a western) and will sit alongside Inglourious Basterds in the Historical Fantasy shelf when it finally hits your local video store.

Much has been made in the media about the recurrent use of the n word but in the context of the film, it’s appropriate. Spike Lee has publically denounced the film for overusing the offensive word, and has refused to see it. I was much more offended by the gratuitous cameo at the end of the movie which almost sinks the whole affair.

The performances from the three leads are solid, although Waltz seems to be treading water with yet another eloquent and intelligent European character. Samuel L. Jackson provides plenty of menace as Stephen, the loyal house slave at Candieland Ranch. However, Kerry Washington as Broomhilda has little else to do but stand around.

Like all Tarantino ventures, the soundtrack is superb and has already become a staple in my music collection. Don’t play it in the car with the kids though.

As with other recent blockbusters such as The Hobbit, Zero Dark Thirty and Les Miserables, Django Unchained is a little too long and needed about half an hour cut from its 165 minute running time. Several opportunities to wrap the storyline up are missed to the film’s overall detriment.

Having typed all of that, I still had a good time with the movie. Don’t be influenced by the trailer. Everything that is depicted in it takes place within the first 20 minutes of the film. If your Tarantino scale has Jackie Brown at the top and Death Proof at the bottom, Django Unchained should easily rank in the top half.

Published in: on February 18, 2013 at 11:01  Leave a Comment  
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Dubious Celebrity Endorsements

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 8th May 2012.

If you’ve been anywhere in the proximity of a television or newspaper lately, you’ll be aware that Coles have relaunched their flybuys program. With just a swipe of a loyalty card, millions of customers can swap their valuable spending habit information for points. These points can be exchanged for flights and other rewards, apparently. I’ve been a member since the program was launched and I’m yet to fly anywhere. I must need to buy more before I can fly.

The face of the relaunched loyalty program is Dawn French of The Vicar of Dibley and French and Saunders fame. That’s right, British actress, writer and comedienne Dawn French. When you think about it, she’s a great choice. She’s funny, personable and a self-declared chocoholic. The only problem is that she’s British actress, writer and comedienne Dawn French.

At the time of writing this column, there’s 22,897,609 people living in Australia and according to Coles, none of them are suitable to advertise an Australian supermarket chain. Has Dawn French even set foot in a Coles store?  Why should she care that I can pick five discounted products? By the way, I chose fish heads, iSnack 2.0, Bindeez Beads, Pikachu and One Direction CDs. Perhaps Nelson Mandela was not available to front the campaign?

Speaking of ridiculous celebrity endorsements, way back in the early nineties, Channel Nine was “still the one.” Every January, the network would launch its new season with an extended promo featuring the contracted stars of the channel making fools of themselves. The 1990 season launch was no different and features Ray Martin tap dancing, Daryl and Ossie and the gang from Hey Hey It’s Saturday in prison, Peter Graves and the Mission Impossible team singing and Don Burke mowing words into a lawn. Inexplicably there’s also some dodgy dancing by a couple dressed in fluoro lycra bike pants.

The whole shebang is set to the Johnny O’Keefe song Shout, performed on a sailing boat by its captain, Jermaine Jackson. You read it, Jermaine Jackson, member of The Jackson 5, brother of The King of Pop, Michael Jackson and well known Australian television viewer.  What is her doing on a boat singing the virtues of watching an Australian television station? Only his accountant knows.

The Beach Boys are back. To celebrate fifty years as a band, well, actually make that thirty years as a band and twenty years of legal disputes, Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks have reunited for a new album and worldwide tour. I can’t wait for them to hit our shores. Finger crossed for an Aussie tour.

Sometime in the early nineties, the Beach Boys, in their Love / Jardine / Johnston incarnation, were convinced to participate in a TV commercial for Manly Wharf. They re-recorded their iconic song Do It Again, with the altered lyrics “Let’s get back to the wharf and do it again.” How many times do you think the Beach Boys have been to Manly Wharf? My guess is just the once, to film the commercial. Obviously little deuce coupes are expensive and the royalties from Kokomo had run out.

I had planned to cite Tina Turner’s rugby league promos as the most ridiculous Aussie celebrity endorsement but it turns out that she actually is a big fan, supports Parramatta and can be found on the hill at every home game eating hot dogs.

On-Stage Accidents: don’t do a Buffett

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Following a sold out concert at the Hordern Pavilion on Wednesday night, US singer Jimmy Buffett walked off the stage. I know. All performers walk off the stage at the end of the show. Unfortunately, in this case, poor Jimmy literally walked off the stage.

After completing an encore set, a disoriented Buffett took one step too many towards his adoring “Parrotheads” (this is what his fans call themselves) and toppled off the stage, gashing his scalp and knocking himself unconscious. Luckily, the head emergency department doctor from St Vincent’s Hospital was in the front row to assist.

Buffett has been cleared of any serious injury and will hopefully continue on his world tour, as well as running his business empire which includes the Margaritaville Cafe and Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant chains and the Margaritaville Beach Hotel at Pensacola Beach. Clearly spreading the island life vibe is very lucrative, as long as you don’t get too mellow at the front of the stage.

The Buffett incident is certainly not an isolated case. The stage is a very dangerous place and many performers have famously injured themselves, or their reputations, in front of a live audience.

In 2007, Beyonce was shaking her “thang” on a stage in Orlando, when she lost her footing and fell face first down twelve steps. Proving that she is a trooper, or perhaps a robot, Beyonce was back on her stilettos in seconds and the show continued. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t wear sensible shoes onstage.

Ashlee Simpson is the less talented sister of talentless singer Jessica Simpson. Back in 2004, whilst performing “live” on Saturday Night Live, the wrong song was cued and Ashlee was caught out when the first song she had successfully mimed started again. Stuck onstage during a live broadcast with her voice being heard but clearly not singing, Simpson danced an awkward jig before wandering away.

Later in the show, Ashlee blamed her band for playing the wrong song. She then claimed that her doctor had advised her to avoid singing due to recurrent acid reflux. Perhaps she had been listening to her own music because that’s what it does to me.

Several “singers” have had their careers shortened by being exposed lip synching during “live performances”, such as Betty Boo, Lindsay Lohan and the infamous Milli Vanilli. Amazingly, the live audience in Connecticut at the concert where poor old Milli and Vanilli were exposed don’t seem to notice that the line “Girl, you know it’s true” is repeated over and over again as the backing track skips. Maybe they thought it was a remix.

Miley Cyrus had a similar thing happen although to her credit, she was singing live. During a performance on live UK television in 2009, she forgot the words to Fly on the Wall and had to embarrassingly turn away from the camera for a few lines until she remembered what came next. I guess that’s what happens when you’re a manufactured popstar and don’t write your own material.

Pink’s most recent Australian concert tour featured circus-like high wire and flying stunts. Last year in Nuremberg, the popular singer came loose from her harness and was flung into a barricade. Besides a bruised ego and body, Pink was back onstage the following night.

The most famous onstage incident occurred during a simulated concert. In 1984, Michael Jackson was filming a Pepsi advert in front of an audience when the pyrotechnics set his hair alight. Unaware that his curls were aflame, the King of Pop continued to dance until he was saved by crew members. Jackson allegedly suffered burns to his scalp and in order to hide his scars underwent extensive plastic surgery…to his face.

Based on this evidence, the stage is potentially a very dangerous place to be, so think twice before you volunteer to sing Hotel California for the tenth time on Karaoke night.

Published in: on February 1, 2011 at 07:55  Leave a Comment  
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