“DJANGO UNCHAINED” – Breaking down the trailer…

Everyone has probably seen the new “Django Unchained” trailer that is supposed to hit big screens in front of tomorrow’s “Prometheus”. It’s the new film from Quentin Tarantino that’s set to be released this Christmas. This is a highly anticipated trailer from a highly anticipated film. In fact it’s #8 on my “Most Anticipated Films of 2012” list. But I have to admit, I have mixed feelings when it comes to Tarantino and I also had mixed feelings after seeing the trailer.

Some view Tarantino as a visionary and a filmmaking genius. For me, he has an undeniable style. His visual presentation is very impressive and the way he crafts his stories show off a slick and unique flare for storytelling. But while I think Tarantino is a solid director in terms of style, I’ve never seen him as the writing genius that others have. I think he is a case of style over substance. Now don’t misunderstand me. Not ever movie has to be thick with complexity. There’s nothing wrong with making simple but stylish films. Some have made the case for the underlying themes found in many of Tarantino’s pictures. Some I can see while others are a bit of a stretch. If their were more deeper meaning to his films, they didn’t connect with me. I tend to see his movies as hyper-violent exercises broken down by clever and unique forms of storytelling. In other words, a simple story told with a slick visual style.

This brings me to “Django Unchained”. I was really anxious to see this trailer for several reasons. First, I was interested to see how Tarantino would present the “old west”. Say what you will about him, but Tarantino is a film lover first so the fact that he would invest in creating a modern-day spaghetti western really appealed to me. That brings me to the second reason I was excited about this trailer (and film). I love the spaghetti western genre. Sergio Leone remains one of my favorite directors of all time and his spaghetti westerns remain my favorite westerns of all time. “A Fistful of Dollars”, “For a Few Dollars More”, “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly”, and “Once Upon a Time in the West” are wonderful films and seeing Tarantino tip his hat to them is great.

That being said, the trailer left me feeling mixed. Now let me preface this by saying that I know you don’t judge a movie by a trailer. Just look at the first trailer for “The Avengers”. It was slow and pretty lifeless yet the movie was a fun action romp that I loved. But there were things with the “Django Unchained” trailer that really left me scratching my head. One key issue I had was the jarring shift in tone after Django is, well, unchained. The James Brown music kicks in which I thought was a little self-indulgent. The movie seemed to be flaunting it’s cleverness and style at the cost of setting the mood and tone. I was also surprised at some of the cheesy lines that, again, seems more aimed at a comedy that a spaghetti western. On the flip side, the production value looks fantastic and it doesn’t look as if Tarantino is going to shy away from the grit you’ll find in many of the great spaghetti westerns. Then there’s the fun assortment of characters. Let’s take a look at the big three:

DJANGO – (Jaime Foxx)

My biggest question mark for this entire production was the casting of Jaime Foxx. It’s said that originally Will Smith was sought after for the part but I’m not sure he would be a big step-up from Foxx for this type of role. Foxx is a decent enough actor. I liked him in “Ray” but not as much as most people. I actually thought he was better in “Collateral Damage” and in his sketch comedy work on the TV show “In Living Color”. There are elements to each of these past performances in the “Django Unchained” trailer. But the trailer did nothing to really sell me on Foxx as a genuine western buttkicker. At times it seemed like he was doing straight parody and it didn’t really work for me. Can Foxx handle this role remains the biggest question for me moving ahead.

 DR. KING SCHULTZ – (Christoph Waltz)

I love Christoph Waltz. He was the very best thing about Tarantino’s last film “Inglourious Basterds”. So naturally I was drawn to the idea of him playing a German bounty hunter in the wild west. Waltz seems to have a wide range and I have no doubt he will be able to handle this material. He looks right at home with the Schultz character and even with his exposition-heavy contribution to the trailer, I found myself drawn to him. Unfortunately he looks to be softer and friendlier than I hope he turns out to be and he features a gun draw so slow that he would never live through a Sergio Leone duel. But Schultz looks to be an intriguing character and it’s still unclear whether he’s to be trusted or not.

CALVIN CANDIE – (Leonardo DiCaprio)

Talk about an actor that has really shown a range. DiCaprio has proven to be more than capable of handling a wide assortment of roles and he certainly was an interesting choice to play the evil plantation owner Calvin Candie. The first thing we quickly notice is that DiCaprio is having tons of fun with this role. He clearly has a ruthless side but there is a suave and sophisticated charm about him as well. In the trailer DiCaprio shows us a character that seems completely self-absorbed but yet mesmerizing. Plus he has the best line of the entire trailer: “Gentlemen, you had my curiosity, but now you have my attention”. Of all that I saw in this trailer, DiCaprio’s character and performance excited me the most.

So there’s a few thought’s on the trailer so many are talking about. Have you seen the “Django Unchained” trailer yet? What were your thoughts?

REVIEW: “Yojimbo”

Classic Movie SpotlightYojiMboAkira Kurosawa’s 1961 classic Yojimbo is a Japanese samurai film that’s not only beautifully hypnotic entertainment but is a master’s class on camera work and film making. Kurosawa creates a gritty and audacious period picture that manages to mix action with small bits of dark comedy while constantly showing off his technical savvy.

Yojimbo was heavily influenced by American westerns from the Japanese village’s dusty, deserted main street to the face-offs reminiscent of classic western one-on-one gun duels. Even more interesting is that it went on to be the inspiration for other westerns including Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, which is almost a scene by scene replication instead of a remake. Both films tell the story of a mysterious stranger who enters a small town ran by two brutal, warring gangs. Instead of heeding the advice of a local resident, the stranger sees there’s money to be made in the village by playing both sides. Even Clint Eastwood’s Fistful character seems specifically patterned after Yojimbo’s samurai all the way down to his constant beard scratching.

Toshiro Mifune gives an impeccable performance as the solemn wandering samurai. He and Kurosawa collaborated for 16 films with Kurosawa once saying of Mifune  ”I am proud of nothing I have done other than with him”. Their creative chemistry is evident in Yojimbo with Kurosawa really focusing on Mifune’s strength of communication through expressions and mannerisms. This is a strong performance.

Yojimbo looks and sounds amazing. Masaru Sato’s magnetic score starts with the opening credits and resonates throughout the picture. The cinematography is fascinating with some cleverly staged camera angles, near perfect camera movement, and beautiful wide-framed shots. The story is pretty basic but very efficient with the exception of a few too many conversations over sake at the restaurant. Yet it’s never boring and more often times mesmerizing.

Yojimbo earns it’s recognition as a classic. With each viewing I gain a better appreciation for the movie and for Kurosawa’s brilliant vision. It’s easy to see why another great director like Sergio Leone would be inspired by Yojimbo. It’s a true motion picture  accomplishment and you don’t have to be a cinephile to appreciate it. If you haven’t seen it, make time to. Then follow it up by watching A Fistful of Dollars. You’ll not only see a great film but also appreciate it’s influence.