Django Unchained

Everything you’ve heard about Django Unchained is true. Quentin Tarentino is a fearless filmmaker. And one of the things he does not fear is excess. Django Unchained is a big movie (2:45 or so) with lots going on.

Set in the antebellum South when slavery was legal, DU will touch some nerves. Is this film racially charged? Yes. Will this film generate controversy? Yes. Does this film entertain? Yes. Is it violent? Oh, yes. Is it funny? You betcha! Django Unchained is the must-see film of the Christmas season.

Christoph Waltz as King Schultz, a German dentist turned US bounty hunter, gives one of the year’s best acting performances. His character is smart, funny and, at times, sensitive. He can also ruthlessly violent. He tries to purchase Django, played by Jamie Foxx, from among a group of slaves after Django tells him he can identify the wanted killers that Schultz is seeking.

Django ends up riding alongside Schultz, who promises to help Django find his wife from whom he was separated. The two enter a small village where townsfolk are stunned to see a black man riding a horse next to a white man. They visit a plantation owned by “Big Daddy,” played by Don Johnson, where Django discovers the wanted men.

The journey to find Django’s wife takes them to Candyland, the Mississippi plantation of Calvin Candie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Candie is a fan of “mandingo fighting,” which pits two slaves in a bloody, bare knuckles hand-to-hand battle. At the plantation, Django and Schultz scheme to secure Djanglo’s wife Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington, from Candie. It’s not an easy mission to accomplish, thanks to interference from Candie’s loyal house slave Stephen, played by Samuel L. Jackson.

Foxx handles the title role with effective, appropriate restraint. DiCaprio, who’ll have that baby face throughout his life, is hard to buy as a nasty bad guy. Jackson gives a killer performance as the 70-ish senior slave.

Tarantino’s over-the-top script is filled with humor and surprises but also reveals a horrifying look at American slavery. One particularly memorable shot, lasting only a second or two, shows blood splattering on cotton bolls in a field. Other depictions of brutality are more direct.

As we’ve come to expect from Tarantino, the soundtrack is a knockout, with tunes ranging from recycled Italian Spaghetti Western songs to Jim Croce’s 70’s hit “I Got a Name.”

Django Unchained will likely generate polarizing media commentary and new devotees of Quentin Tarantino and his distinctive, highly entertaining film making. Not to mention a few awards nominations, as well.

 

Bully

“Bully” is a clever piece of film making. The stories come from the heartland: smaller towns in Iowa, Oklahoma, Georgia and Mississippi. The words come from both kids and parents. The blame (for not controlling bullies) lands squarely on school administrators.

“Bully” introduces us to kids who cope and kids who were not able to cope. We come to know kids who left the world, via family videos and comments from their parents and friends. We meet a girl who threatened school bus bullies with a gun. A boy who manages to grin and bear it while being pummeled daily on the bus is revealed to be a truly likeable kid.

Scenes in the movie include: A town hall meeting in Georgia following a 17-year-old boy’s suicide, at which school board members and high school administrators fail to show up. A middle school in Iowa, where leadership promises to help to address a student’s situation, but his parents are dubious. A father in Oklahoma who decides to move because of the way his daughter and his family are treated.

For me, the movie stirred some past memories of horrible things that have happened to my three kids as well as things that I endured decades ago. (Damn, I hated riding that school bus to junior high!) I can assure you that principals and counselors were just as hesitant to mete out appropriate punishment in years past as they are today.

In fairness to school administrators, though, moviegoers should know that the movie is edited in such a way as to make certain school leaders appear soft on bullying or, worse, almost buffoonish. Make no mistake: this is advocacy film making.

“Bully” will not end bullying. As long as some of us are smaller and weaker or look different and act differently, bullying will occur. But giving voices and faces to the downtrodden will certainly generate conversations that may lead to actions.

Regarding the movie’s MPAA rating or lack of it, I’d put it at about “PG-11,” not so much for the F-bombs, but for the subject matter.