We review this week’s new cinema releases, including Django Unchained
DJANGO UNCHAINED (USA/18/165mins)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino. Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Johnson, Kerry Washington, Walton Goggins.
THE PLOT: The Civil War is two years away, but down in the Deep South, the fight has already begun for Django Freeman (Foxx), a slave who is looking at the promise of freedom if he helps astute German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Waltz) track down his latest prey. The two work so well together on their first job, they’re soon partners, both aware that Django’s ultimate goal is to track down his wife, Broomhilda (Washington), and free her from her latest owner, plantation playboy Calvin Candie (DiCaprio). The man is going to take some convincing, and conning, though, given that he has a heartless and suspicious bloodhound (Jackson) by his side. Texas in the 1880s is a time when a black man on a horse could stop traffic – so, one with attitude, and a gun, causes quite the commotion…
THE VERDICT: Just as Tarantino took on the deathly serious issue of the Nazi holocaust with Inglorious Basterds, here everyone’s favourite film-geek-made-good uses and abuses the language of exploitation cinema with intoxicating style and wit to address and reframe America’s slave past. Naturally, the politics of such a slick spaghetti western dealing with such a sick time could be argued over until the Native Americans come home, but there’s no denying the gleeful – and possibly guilty – entertainment value of Tarantino’s latest historical revenge fantasy offering. Think Coens meet Carry On. Think Roots: The Bloody Payback. Think The Help reimagined by Itchy & Scratchy.
A filmmaker who has never been shy about his influences (although you might want to avoid asking him about his methods and motivations, especially when it comes to all that insatiable cartoon violence), once again, Tarantino wears his heart on his sleeve here. For his epic spaghetti ‘southern’, Quentin’s clearly got John Ford on the horizon, Sergio Leone in his hips, and Ennio Morricone on the hi-fi. And they’re just the names that we’re all familiar with. Sergio Corbucci, the Italian master of violent spaghetti westerns, was the initial inspiration, his 1966 cult classic Django currently available on a website near you for about €7.
Foxx shines, no doubt delighted to be in something credible and cool after a long, long run of second-rate, hugely-unsuccessful commercial dross, but this is really Golden Globe winner Christoph Waltz’s film. Meanwhile, in his latest cameo, Tarantino himself once again proves that he has all the acting chops of another of his idols, Alfred Hitchcock. Any screen-time longer than 6 seconds, and someone on-set should really shut this boy’s butt down.
Review by Paul Byrne
THE SESSIONS (USA/16/94mins)
Directed by Ben Lewin. Starring John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, Adam Arkin, Moon Bloodgood, Anika Marks, Rhea Perlman.
THE PLOT: Based on California journalist and poet Mark O’Brien’s writings, we join our bed-ridden polio victim (Hawkes) deciding that, at the age of 38, he doesn’t want to become a 40-year old virgin. And so, with his new trusty backpacked and bovver-booted carer (Bloodgood) by his side, and with some sage advice from his bemused local priest (Macy, sporting his flowing Shameless locks), O’Brien (think Christy Brown meets David Sedaris) gets in touch with sex therapist Cheryl (Hunt). Who will introduce Mark to the joys of sex over six sessions, culminating in full intercourse. Along with some deep, deep soul searching and some unexpected bonding, of course…
THE VERDICT: Hands up, who wants to see Helen Hunt naked? And really, really acting? There’s something embarrassingly awards-chasing about writer/director – and TV veteran – Ben Lewin’s big-screen outing (the 66-year-old’s first since 1994’s Lucky Break), especially when you consider that lead, John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Eastbound & Down), is such a humble and loveable actor. There’s only so much wriggle room for an actor though once you go down the cantankerous, sarcastic cripple route, and it’s telling that, despite all his sterling work here, Hawkes has been ignored by both the Oscar voters whereas faded star Hunt is getting nods left, right and centre. Largely because she’s Hollywood material, and she gets more than her ya-ya’s out here in the name of art. Of course, if there’s one thing stronger than playing a pugnacious paraplegic when it comes to chasing awards, it’s the old hooker with a heart routine.
The fact that it’s all based on a true story puts a little spit into the mix here (making it Tuesdays With Morrie for Guardian readers), but Lewin fails to really light any of the sparks here, painfully overcooking any subtleties – emotional or comical – to the point where all you’re left with is a half-decent disease-of-the-day TV movie.
Review by Paul Byrne
Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Starring Shirley Henderson, John Simm, Shaun Kirk, Robert Kirk, Katrina Kirk, Stephanie Kirk.
THE PLOT: Norwich, and faithful wife Karen (Henderson) is patiently waiting for hubby Ian (Simm) as he sits in prison – luckily though, to keep the mind occupied, she’s got their four kids (played by four children from the same family) to look after. So, killing time is not going to be a problem. Over the years, we follow Karen and her kids go through their everyday lives. And, er, that’s it…
THE VERDICT: Obviously too cheap to pay for a make-up artist, the prolific Michael Winterbottom decided to let his characters truly age here by shooting Everyday inbetween other projects over a five-year period. It’s an interesting idea but, unfortunately, it doesn’t make for all that interesting a movie. Except, perhaps in a mild 7Up kind of way, given that the kids make their physical leaps and bounds.
Deciding to emphasis the small details to tell the big picture, Winterbottom focuses largely on the incidental. It’s an approach that soon wears thin though, and by the end, you certainly feel the weight and frustration of a five-year wait. The end credits feel like a release.
Review by Paul Byrne