Jamie Foxx on Saddling Up For ‘Django Unchained’

Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written in 2013.

It was a role originally meant for Will Smith, but after watching “Django Unchained” it will be hard to think of any actor who could have played Django better than Jamie Foxx. The Oscar-winning actor came from the world of comedy where he has done hilarious work, but he continues to impress us with one terrific dramatic performance after another in films like “Collateral,” “Ali” and “Any Given Sunday.” The role of Django is one of the biggest and most challenging Foxx has taken on, and he convincingly takes this character from being a helpless slave to becoming a slick bounty hunter in splendid fashion.

When it comes to working with Quentin Tarantino, he’s always ready to show his actors movies they can base their characters on. Foxx was no exception to this, and Tarantino got him to watch Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 Spaghetti Western “Django,” a movie which serves as one of “Django Unchained’s” biggest inspirations. It starred Franco Nero as a coffin-dragging gunslinger who comes into town and gets caught up in a feud between the KKK and a bunch of Mexican bandits. While talking with Rebecca Murray of About.com, Foxx explained what impact watching “Django” had on him as well working with Nero who has a cameo in “Django Unchained.”

“I was like, wow, it was amazing. And then to actually have the original Django in the movie. I don’t know if you’ve ever met him but he was the biggest star on the set,” Foxx told Murray. “For him to give his blessing, and I think it really follows true to it and I think that’s what’s going to be the pleasant surprise to people, that it’s a Western and that it stays along the lines of a Western that happens to be in the backdrop of slavery. Slavery almost becomes secondary at a certain point because at the beginning it’s traditional, slave. Then once he becomes this bounty hunter, that’s the backdrop. Now it’s about revenge and about getting this girl, so he stayed true to that and that’s cinematic.”

While at the “Django Unchained” press conference, Foxx made it clear he was ever so eager to work with Tarantino on it. He had no qualms about playing a slave, and what attracted him to the role was Django’s uprising. Movies have always been an outlet for the artists who make them and the audiences that watch them, and Foxx explained what makes this one particularly cathartic.

“When you see movies about slavery…we never get a chance to see the slave actually fight back, actually do for himself, and in this movie there are a lot of firsts,” Foxx said.

Despite the fact it is a genre movie and a revenge fantasy of sorts, “Django Unchained” does deal with America’s dark history of slavery. Tarantino never sugar coats it for mass audience consumption, but then again, why should anyone? It’s an ugly part of the past we’d like to ignore, but it needs to be acknowledged so we can learn from it in the hopes of never repeating it again. As a result, the movie has been greeted with controversy over its subject matter and the frequent use of the n-word with many people (and not just Spike Lee) complaining loudly about it. But Foxx, in an interview with Keith Staskiewicz of Entertainment Weekly, said he is not surprised at the strong response “Django Unchained” has been getting and doesn’t think anyone else should be either.

“You know it’s going to be controversial!” Foxx told Staskiewicz. “That’s what’s been blowing my mind, people saying, did you know this was going to be controversial? It’s like, come on man! Did you read the script? Why would Quentin Tarantino do anything that wasn’t controversial? What movie of his have you seen where you went, oh, this is a Hallmark Movie and rated G? That’s not what you sign up for. You don’t sign up for that.”

Still, Foxx admitted it was a tough movie to make considering part of it was shot at the Evergreen Plantation in Louisiana. It was at this same plantation where slaves were made to work, and they suffered and toiled under brutal conditions. Being there must have been deeply unsettling for everyone involved in the movie’s making, and it certainly had a strong impact on Foxx which he wasn’t about to ignore.

“It’s tough shooting when you’re in plantation row and that’s where your ancestors were persecuted and killed, and we were respectful of that,” Foxx told Staskiewicz.

Regardless of the controversy, “Django Unchained” proved to be one of the most entertaining movies of 2012 thanks to Tarantino’s clever screenplay and direction, and also because of the sensational performances from the cast. Jamie Foxx can add Django to his roster of great screen roles in a career which still has many more to be revealed. Foxx also made a very good point about the film’s subject matter to Adam Edelman of the New York Daily News which people really need to think about.

“Every two, three years there is a movie about the Holocaust because they want you to remember and they want you to be reminded of what it was,” Foxx said. “When was the last time you seen a movie about slavery?”

 

SOURCES:

Rebecca Murray, “Interview with Jamie Foxx from ‘Django Unchained,'” About.com

Matt Donato, “Interview With The Cast Of Django Unchained,” We Got This Covered

Keith Staskiewicz, “‘Django Unchained’: Jamie Foxx on portraying slavery and filming on an actual plantation,” Entertainment Weekly, December 14, 2012.

Adam Edelman, “‘Django Unchained’ star Jamie Foxx: ‘Every single thing in my life is built around race,'” New York Daily News, December 14, 2012.

‘Django Unchained’ – Tarantino’s Down and Dirty Western

Django Unchained movie poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was originally written in 2012.

Every time Quentin Tarantino releases a new movie, a celebration should be in order. The man loves movies like many filmmakers do, but he always succeeds in manipulating genre conventions to where he can freely make them his own, and this makes his works all the more thrilling. There’s also no beating his dialogue which exhilarates us in the same way a play by David Mamet can, and words in a Tarantino movie usually prove to be every bit as exciting as the action scenes. His latest movie “Django Unchained” is no exception, but it does suffer from some of his excesses which have taken away (if only slightly) from the films he has given us in the past. But if you can get past its flaws, you are still in for a very entertaining time.

Jamie Foxx stars as the Django of the movie’s title, and it takes place in the year 1858 which was just two years before the start of the Civil War. Django is being led through the freezing cold wilderness along with other slaves when he is freed by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a dentist who has since become a bounty hunter. King needs Django’s help in finding the Brittle brothers, ruthless killers who have a sizable price on their heads. In return for Django’s help, King promises him he will help rescue his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from slavery. She is currently in the hands of the charismatic but viciously brutal plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), and you know this will lead to a conclusion which will be anything but peaceful.

Tarantino always loves to mix genres, and he does this brilliantly with “Django Unchained.” On the surface it is clearly a western, but the “Pulp Fiction” auteur also combines it with the Blaxploitation genre which we all know is one of his favorites. Heck, we even get to meet the ancestors of John Shaft, the black private detective made famous by Richard Roundtree in the movie “Shaft.” Just as he did with “Inglourious Basterds,” Tarantino gleefully throws caution to the wind as he subverts both genres to create an exhilarating motion picture experience few other people can give us. He’s not out to make a historically accurate movie, but we’re having too much fun to really care.

Now many people including Spike Lee have complained about Tarantino’s overuse of the n- word in this movie as they have of other films he’s made in the past. In their eyes it’s like they’re saying Tarantino revels in the racist behavior of his characters, but I don’t think that’s even remotely true. All the insanely racist characters in “Django Unchained” end up getting their asses handed to them in the most painful way possible, and while Tarantino’s love of black culture might differ a little from others, the love is there all the same.

And again, Tarantino gives us a terrific soundtrack filled with many songs which are not from the time period this movie takes place in. I love how he complements scenes of Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz riding on their horses with songs by James Brown, John Legend and Brother Dege (AKA Dege Legg) among others. He also includes pieces of film scores by Ennio Morricone and Jerry Goldsmith for good measure, and there are even original songs to be found here as well, something exceedingly rare for a Tarantino movie.

Having said all this, the length of “Django Unchained” did drive me up the wall a bit. At a time where filmmakers push the limit and have their movies run longer than two hours, Tarantino proves to be one of 2012’s biggest sinners as this one clocks in at almost three hours and threatens to have as many endings as “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” Suffice to say, this movie could have been shorter. Perhaps it’s the absence of his longtime editor, the late Sally Menke, who was always good at reigning Tarantino in. Fred Raskin, who has edited the last three “Fast & Furious” movies, was the editor on this one.

Still, there is a lot to appreciate and enjoy about “Django Unchained,” especially the acting. Jamie Foxx has proven to be a terrific actor ever since he held his own opposite Al Pacino in Oliver Stone’s “Any Given Sunday,” and his talent doesn’t waiver in the slightest here. As Django, he gives us a western hero who has earned the right to seek vengeance for what has been done to him, and he is thrilling to watch as he makes this character a shockingly bad ass bounty hunter by the movie’s conclusion.

Christoph Waltz brings a wonderful mirth and a unique liveliness to the exceedingly violent characters he plays, and his role as dentist turned bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz is further proof. It’s fun to see him be so charming to others only to watch him blow them away when the occasion calls for him to do so. Waltz more than earned the Oscar he received for his brilliant performance in “Inglourious Basterds,” and his work in “Django Unchained” proves he is a gifted actor who is here to stay.

Leonardo DiCaprio clearly relishes the opportunity to shed his heartthrob persona to play the charming yet undeniably evil plantation owner Calvin Candie. In a year which has had a large number of unforgettable villains, Calvin is one of the most vicious as his power and wealth has turned him into a raving sociopath who has little hope of finding redemption in his lifetime. DiCaprio is enthralling to watch as he taunts everyone around him with a twisted glee, and he looks to be having loads of fun in playing a character few others would have chosen him to play.

One standout performance which really needs to be acknowledged, however, comes from Samuel L. Jackson, an actor who has played parts both big and small in Tarantino’s movies. Jackson plays Calvin’s head slave Stephen who is the Uncle Tom of “Django Unchained,” and he makes you want to hate his racist, backstabbing character with a passion. Jackson gives a spirited performance as a man who freely betrays the principles he should be standing up for in order to benefit his own desires and keep himself safe in a time where he is anything but.

Kudos also goes to Kerry Washington who plays Django’s kidnapped wife, Broomhilda. Her character suffers many indignities, and Washington makes her pain and fear so vivid to where she leaves you on edge every time she appears onscreen. The moments where she has no dialogue are among her most powerful as her eyes threaten to give away the secrets she is desperate to keep hidden.

Seriously, this movie is filled with actors we know very well, and they keep popping up here when you least expect them to. You have Don Johnson playing plantation owner Spencer ‘Big Daddy’ Bennett, you have Jonah Hill as Randy, a bone-headed KKK member who can’t seem to fix his hood properly, you have Walton Goggins playing an unapologetically vicious cowboy who enjoys the torture he inflicts upon others, and you have Dennis Christopher as the flamboyant Leonide Moguy. If you watch real closely you can also see Zoë Bell, Robert Carradine, Franco Nero, M. C. Gainey, Bruce Dern, Tom Savini, Michael Parks and John Jarratt pop up in roles which would seem small if they were played by anybody else. It’s all proof of how there are no small roles in a Tarantino movie, and all these people are clearly thrilled to be in his company.

Tarantino also has a small role as a mining company employee. While I have no problem defending him as an actor in some movies, his Australian accent could use a bit of work, and that’s being generous.

I’m not sure where I would rate “Django Unchained” in comparison to Tarantino’s other films, but I have to say I enjoyed “Inglourious Basterds” more. This movie’s nearly three-hour length took away from my overall experience, but I can only complain about it so much. When it comes to movies, Tarantino still provides audiences with the kind of enthralling entertainment which never plays it safe.

While it’s far from perfect, “Django Unchained” is a thrillingly alive movie filled with great acting, terrific dialogue and incredibly bloody gunfights Sam Peckinpah would have gotten a kick out of. If you can withstand its excesses and know what you are in for when it comes to a Tarantino movie, you are still bound to have a great time watching it.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

 

‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ Has Way Too Much Going On

The Amazing Spiderman 2 poster

I figured after “Spider-Man 3,” movie studios and filmmakers would think twice before putting three villains in a film, but lo and behold they have done it again with “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” a sequel to the surprisingly successful reboot which wasn’t necessarily needed so soon. Director Marc Webb is forced to deal with a story that doesn’t have much of a focus and contains too many characters for it to deal with. What results is a incredibly underwhelming superhero movie which plays more like a two-hour plus trailer for other movies, and while this is the fifth “Spider-Man” film in just over a decade, my disappointment with this one has little to do with franchise fatigue.

Not much time has passed since the events of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” and we find ourselves catching up with Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) as they are graduating from high school. Of course, Peter is delayed a bit as his alter ego of Spider-Man has to fight crime when Russian mobster Aleksei Sytsevich, who will later be revealed as Rhino, tries to drive out of New York City with a case full of plutonium vials. Paul Giamatti plays Aleksei and he clearly is having a blast playing such an over the top character, but he’s barely in the movie. We see him at the very beginning and at the end, but nowhere in between.

This brings me to one of my major gripes with superhero movies today. Studios are so insanely desperate in starting the next big franchise to where they already have at least two sequels planned before their big tent pole movie is even released, and it has gotten to where everyone has forgotten how to make a self-contained movie. Rhino is basically here to act as a bridge to the future spinoff “The Sinister Six,” and it ends up taking away from a movie which already has way too much on its plate.

Then we get to meet Max Dillon, an electrical engineer who is invisible to everybody and has no real friends. But after a freak accident lands him in a tank full of genetically modified electric eels, he quickly mutates into an electric generator of a monster who calls himself Electro. Jamie Foxx plays this character who is considered one of the greatest villains in comic book history, and his performance in a way reminded me of Jim Carrey’s in “Batman Forever” where he played Edward Nygma/The Riddler. Both characters come to idolize the heroes which dominate their lonely lives, but when they feel betrayed by those same heroes, the affection they have toward them is revealed to be a deep-seated resentment that soon evolves into sheer anger.

Foxx is a terrific actor and this role could have given him a number of great avenues to explore, but once again this movie has too much to deal with which results in Max Dillon/Electro not getting enough screen time. In fact, Electro ends up disappearing for a good portion of the movie to where you wonder if he’s disappeared for good. When he does come back onscreen, he’s reduced to spewing out a lot of lame one-liners I kept thing were rejected from “Batman & Robin.” Electro could have been one of the most memorable villains to appear in movies this year, but instead he turns out to be one of the lamest.

Next, we come to villain number three which is Harry Osborn/Green Goblin who has just inherited his late father’s business, Oscorp Industries. Played by James Franco in Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” movies, he is portrayed here by Dane DeHaan who has made quite the name for himself after his acting triumphs in “Chronicle” and “Kill Your Darlings.” DeHaan does excellent work as Harry in portraying his manipulative control over his newly acquired board of directors, and he makes us feel his desperation to escape the same fate which befell his father. But when DeHaan becomes the Green Goblin, he goes from giving one of the best performances in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” to one of the worst as his acting is reduced to hissing a lot at people. Don’t even get me started on his makeup because it made me miss that cheap looking mask Willem Dafoe was forced to wear in the first “Spider-Man” movie.

So, is there anything which works in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2?” Well yes, the scenes between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone which continue to be the best parts of this rebooted franchise. Whenever they are together onscreen, the movie comes to life in a way that doesn’t require a single special effect. Like Tobey Maguire before him, Garfield understands what makes Spider-Man such a relatable superhero as, aside from his amazing superpowers, he is a really down to earth guy who has problems like everybody else. As for Stone, she makes Gwen Stacy a wonderfully intelligent human being and the appealing girlfriend many of us hope to have.

Seeing them together also reminded me how Webb directed one of the best romantic movies of recent years, “(500) Days of Summer.” While his handling of this superhero franchise has become shoddy, he really does know how to direct actors to where their intimacy feels ever so genuine. I hope he goes back to directing character dramas very soon.

Actually, when it comes to the failure of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” I find myself blaming Sony and Columbia Pictures more than I blame Webb. In trying to make a hugely entertaining movie, everyone involved got so caught up in setting the stage for future sequels and spinoffs to where this feels like a coming attraction for something far more entertaining. Yes, there are some fantastic special effects on display here which look great in either 2D or 3D, but even they can’t lift this movie out of the muck. There’s never a shortage of fights, explosions and chases, and maybe that’s the problem. While Webb is looking to unlock his inner Michael Bay here, this sequel ends up getting robbed of much of its soul.

I really hate it when history repeats itself, be it in the real world or at the movies. Maybe you can get away with two villains in a movie, but you should not have three. “Spider-Man 3” and “Iron Man 2” should have taught us all this, but some people just don’t listen. Seriously, haven’t we learned anything? Are we destined to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again?

* * out of * * * *