Tag Archives: western

Geek Movie Review: Django Unchained

Django_Unchained_PosterOn  my second attempt, I finally got to see Django Unchained at the lovely Alamo Drafthouse here in Austin.

I had mixed expectations.  In general, Quentin Tarantino has begun to wear on me. He’s big enough that his movies have become self-indulgent to the extreme. Oh, let’s wink a lot about that cameo, let’s drag out that murder or rape or torture scene about 5 minutes past where it needs to be, let’s toss up some labels on the screen with a whip-crack to be cute… Excess in place of storytelling. But Django was getting really high reviews (sitting at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes right now).

And I was pleasantly surprised.  Tarantino reins in his excess while still doing a bloody homage to westerns, and even delivers a coherent plot while doing so!

Jamie Foxx is Django, a slave in the antebellum South, who is freed by bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) in order to ID some criminals who need to be brought back dead-not-alive. Django decides he likes killing white folks and becomes a bounty hunter, and his new buddy helps him on his quest to find and free his wife, still a slave somewhere in the South. Basically “Ray” and “the Jew Hunter” in a spaghetti western quest to kill that kid from Titanic and Shane from The Shield.

It works! Oh sure, there’s screaming and blood. The brutality of slavery is shown. There’s cameos, including one of Tarantino.  You know, I saw his extended cameo in Sukiyaki Western Django, which is one of the worst 5 minutes of film you’ll ever sit through in  your life. He must have gotten the need to go totally hamhandedly over the top out in that, luckily, and he treats all of these elements as part of a coherent whole in Django. Worst cameo: Jonah Hill, given too much camera time for no good reason.  Well, maybe tied with the inexplicable “Zoe Bell with face always covered looking at a picture before dying unceremoniously.” Best cameo: Sex Machine! (You know, Tom Savini from From Dusk Till Dawn.  The guy with the crotch gun? Yeah, him.)

The story unfolds logically and at a realistic pace, without dwelling overlong on individual scenes – at the end of the movie, when we realized it had been nearly three hours, we were surprised because it had kept up a good but sustainable pace throughout.

Jamie Foxx puts in a good performance in a part that could easily have degenerated to “incoherent rage all the time” or “I’m too cool for all this.” The best performance is from Waltz, who we all know as the Jew Hunter from Inglorious Basterds. It’s a somewhat similar character, but he tones down the unctiousness from Basterds a lot here and is engaging without being distracting. Leonardo DiCaprio does a good job with the plantation owner.  The only weak performance is from Kerry Washington, Django’s wife Broomhilda. She didn’t have a lot to work with – maybe ten lines not counting screaming, sobbing, and other fun abused-woman noises – but was more a MacGuffin than a character.  And I always love it when Walton Goggins gets work, I’m always like “Oh look it’s Shane from The Shield, that makes me happy!” He even gets called a hillbilly.

The action was engaging, with one long shootout/bloodfest that was done in a pleasingly realistic way, and without being belabored into a half hour thing. There’s deaths by derringer, by pistol, by rifle, by dynamite…

The plot is good if not all that nuanced.  Some reviewers seem to think that the plot here is a brilliant dissection of white/black race relations or something; that must be their white guilt talking because it’s not more nuanced than Basterd’s “The Jews get to kill Nazis and Hitler woot!” It’s “ex slave gets to kill white slaveholders and an Uncle Tom woot!” Which is fun and viscerally satisfying, but not some complex thoughtful surprising statement or anything.

Most of Tarantino’s homage work seems to be “let’s take the most lurid elements of the source genre and TURN THEM UP TO ELEVEN and beat them to death in scenes twice as long as they need to be” and ends up generating something more parody than emulation. But in Django Unchained, he takes it to 8 instead of 11 and ends up turning in something that is actually honest-to-God like a good quality spaghetti western. Top flight acting and a good plot turn this into a solid and entertaining movie.

Aces & Eights – Still Kicking!

The Kenzer & Co. Wild West game Aces & Eights has been keeping a low profile despite taking Origins RPG of the Year and the silver Best RPG ENNie.  I got the game once it came onto my radar screen and was very impressed.  But I’ve been wondering where the game’ll go – I hear zero buzz on it, and there’s only a couple products out so far.

But on the Kenzer forums, good news is heard – loads of new products!   In fact, David Kenzer says “2009 is mostly about Aces & Eights product.”  In the hopper are:

  • The Shootist’s Guide (aka target silhouettes and hunting book)
  • GM Shield (likely a [faux] leather shield)
  • Trouble on the Sequoyah Star (train adventure)
  • Fool’s Gold (adventure)
  • Men of Sloan (adventure)

I can’t wait!  I declare 2009 Year of the Western.  It is really a very good game and the genre hasn’t gotten much love lately.  I wish Kenzer and the game the best, and will try to corral some folks into playing it soon!

Aces & Eights!

My copy of the Origins-award-winning Wild West game “Aces & Eights: Shattered Frontier,” from Kenzer & Co., finally came in! First impressions – man, it’s heavy! Faux leather cover, hardback, 400 glossy thick pages. It’s like a volume of the encyclopedia! (I got a great deal on it from USA Comic Books online, $42 with shipping – list price is $60!)

It seems very cool so far. As a “Deadwood” fan it’s nice to see a straight Western game (no supernatural or any of that). I’m dubious about the point of the ‘alternate history’ where the Confederates and Federals got into a stalemate though… Seems gratuitous and largely irrelevant to the play of the game. It has loads of info on Western campaign activities – town life, prospecting, cattle drives, juries, and more. This is awesome; to really make a Western game takes more than just some combat rules.

I have a soft spot for random character generation. In A&8, chargen is an odd mix of random, random but you can spend points to reroll, choose but it costs more, and choose. I’ll walk through the chargen and show you how quickly a fully fleshed out Western character appears!

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Cattlepunk! And Origins!

My favorite Knights of the Dinner Table comics were always the ones where they played their fictional Wild West game, Cattlepunk. Here’s an example. Well, it looks like I may be able to do the same soon, because I was just looking at the Origins awards from this year and the RPG winner was Aces & Eights, a “straight” western game (in other words no supernatural elements) from KenzerCo!

Note to game companies. The first guys that combined supernatural horror and the Wild West were cooking with gas. (Deadlands!) Doing it again (for about the twentieth time now) is not so cool. Quit it.

Here’s the nominees and winners from Origins for best RPG and best RPG supplement. What about the other categories – minis, board games, card games? Who cares, I don’t play any of that crap! Real men play RPGs! (Sadly, it sounds like board games are on the rise and RPGs are going out in the marketplace – companies like Atlas Games are pretty much only living on board/card game sales nowadays. Sad.)

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