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Published: Thursday, 4/18/2013

Tarantino’s good, bad, showcased in ‘Django Unchained’

BY RICH HELDENFELS
AKRON BEACON JOURNAL
Christoph Waltz as Schultz, left, and Jamie Foxx as Django in the film, 'Django Unchained,' directed by Quentin Tarantino. Christoph Waltz as Schultz, left, and Jamie Foxx as Django in the film, 'Django Unchained,' directed by Quentin Tarantino.
ANDREW COOPER Enlarge

Quentin Tarantino is one of the most maddening filmmakers around. He loves movies, loves them in an omnivorous way. There is no film so obscure, no moment so bizarre, that Tarantino has not mentally filed it and considered a way to use it in one of his movies.

It’s an approach that has worked at times — Pulp Fiction holds up, and I like a lot of Jackie Brown — but more recent works such as Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained demand not only a film geek to appreciate it all, but also a more general willingness by the audience to distance itself from movies and characters because Tarantino may at any moment decide to switch genres, toss in anachronistic music, or have a cameo by Jonah Hill.

It is Hill’s cameo in Django — which  arrived Tuesday on DVD (Anchor Bay, $29.98) and a Blu-ray/ DVD combo ($39.99) — that sums up the problem I have with Tarantino. He may love movies, but he doesn’t particularly respect them. I believe movies should let you get lost in their world. Tarantino believes he can pull you out of that world at any time, just to show you how clever he is. Similarly, he treats big ideas and issues, such as racism in Django, as just a place to hang simplistic fantasies of revenge.

To be sure, Tarantino has his admirers. He has won two Academy Awards as a writer (for Pulp Fiction and Django). Reviews of Django were overwhelmingly favorable, even if some of the favor was in the that’s-so-Quentin vein. But, as I said, if you expect a certain kind of enveloping movie experience, Django will be as maddening to you as it is to me.

The film stars Jamie Foxx as Django, a slave enlisted by bounty hunter King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) in Schultz’s search for a pair of criminals; he and Django then become bounty-hunting partners — although Django’s real quest is to find his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who has been taken by a new owner. That journey ultimately brings them to the malicious Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), Candie’s scheming slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) and a violent final confrontation. And, of course, tributes to the spaghetti Westerns that partly inspired it, African-American exploitation films, old cowboy actor Tom Mix, vintage music, TV Westerns (with several veteran actors in cameos), and, yes, Jonah Hill. You’ve been warned.

Extras on the DVD include a look at the production design. The Blu-ray combo adds pieces on costume design and on the horses and stunt work.

Also out Tuesday: If you watched the recent HBO adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End (or know Ford’s written work), you may be interested in BBC Home Entertainment’s release of a 1964 miniseries version ($24.98 on standard DVD). It is also of note for Judi Dench fans, since it includes one of her early performances.

In stores now, and certain to give a twinge to those of us who grew up on Saturday live-action shows, is Howdy, Kids! A Saturday Afternoon Western Roundup (Shout! Factory, $24.97 standard DVD). The package includes an episode or two of The Roy Rogers Show, The Rifleman, Sky King, Fury, Annie Oakley, The Cisco Kid, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, and other shows. The picture quality varies somewhat, the plots are often simple and the budgetary limitations evident. (It often seems that the same room just has furniture moved in and out to represent different locations.) And still it took me back to the days when I watched show after show.

Down video road

Safe Haven, the romantic drama starring Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel, comes to DVD and Blu-ray on May 7. Flashpoint: The Fifth Season brings the last episodes of that police drama to DVD on May 7. The Bletchley Circle, the period drama about World War II codebreakers becoming post-war crime solvers, will begin telecast on PBS on April 21 — then arrive on DVD and Blu-ray on May 14. A “collector’s edition” Blu-ray/ DVD combo of the original Zero Mostel-Gene Wilder The Producers is coming on July 2.



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