Django Unchained, the latest film from writer/director Quentin Tarantino, is a hyperviolent revenge fantasy set in the American south, two years before the start of the Civil War. Equal parts Jack Hill and Sam Peckinpah, Django is another in a long line of Tarantino’s love-letters to the rough-edged, anything-goes cinematic landscape of the 1970’s. Tarantino wears his influences on his sleeve, and a handful of jaded reviewers have begun calling out his use of genre conventions like it’s something he was ever trying to hide in the first place. What those same reviewers often fail to grasp is the skill needed to blend, refine, and refresh those ingredients time and time again. The heroes and villains of both the “blaxploitation” and western films of the 70’s were all but crushed under the weight of the genres themselves, and have blurred together into a small handful of archetypes that the general viewing public only remembers today as either “Pam Grier” or “Clint Eastwood”. Django Unchained, on the other hand, is a work populated with interesting and memorable characters, and it serves as a reminder of why Tarantino is perhaps the most consistently great director in Hollywood today.
When I first heard about The Man with the Iron Fists, RZA’s loving tribute to the Saturday afternoon Kung fu flicks of his youth, I was incredibly excited. Then I started seeing the reviews come in and my excitement admittedly waned a little bit. Literally seconds after the film started to roll, however, I realized why it’s important to never let that kind of thing deter me from my initial instincts. Most film critics today–the good ones, not the ones writing for the DVD cover–are where they’re at now primarily out of a love for art films, and the undeniable classics of Hollywood’s golden age. Today’s directors though–again, the good ones–are where they’re at largely due to genre films, particularly those of the lush cinematic landscape that was the 1970’s. This has created an unfortunate system where one side is not always picking up what the other’s laying down.