Tarantino's created a near-masterpiece
THERE are very few directors out there whose every project is an event to be anticipated and treasured, but Quentin Tarantino is unquestionably among them, if not at the very top of the pile.
For two decades now he's been building a filmography to rival any working film-maker, and one that with each addition is creating a filmmaking legacy for the ages.
His latest is another near-masterpiece, a blend of spaghetti western and blaxploitation set in Texas in 1858, before the Civil War has broken out, and seven years before Abraham Lincoln would free the slaves.
We meet Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a bounty hunter who frees Django (Jamie Foxx) from slave traders.
It's a glorious opening, a wordy yet pithy scene that beautifully showcases Waltz's exquisite ability to get his mouth around Tarantino's special brand of dialogue. It's just the first of many.
Schultz has a proposition for Django; help him find and kill the Brittle brothers, slave bosses with a bounty on their heads, and he'll give Django his freedom. Their bounty hunting adventures take up about the first hour of hugely entertaining screen time, with sequences that are inventive, action-packed, and very, very funny.
The moments leading up to a raid are up there with Blazing Saddles in terms of silliness and laughs.
But there's much more to come in a second half that sees Schultz and Django go in search of Django's wife, a slave owned by Leonardo DiCaprio, as they pose as slave traders to get close to DiCaprio's evil plantation owner, Calvin Candie.
And in this second half it deepens, with Tarantino having much more on his mind, so while astonishingly violent, it takes a moment to ponder the consequences. It's also an unflinching look at slavery and racism, as Django becomes a one man anti-slavery machine.
Foxx may have the title role, but Waltz is the star, proving just like he did in Inglourious Basterds how comfortably he fits into the Tarantino universe, with a sly, witty, warm performance that's also sufficiently different from his Colonel Landa. DiCaprio is over the top but wildly entertaining, and Samuel L. Jackson is superb in a small but pivotal role.
In among the fantastic banter, there are several moments that take the breath away in their composition and daring, and the result is pure cinema.
Anachronistic music that takes us from country to rap through Ennio Morricone are all perfectly chosen and complementary.
On the downside, there is a bit of a sag in the middle and just as it seems to have reached a natural conclusion, it then trundles on for another half hour. But this period allows Tarantino to deliver a number of extravagantly violent action blasts that light up the screen, as blood paints the walls and holy retribution is paid.
Slight problems with pacing and an unwanted cameo keep it from perfection, but as with a number of Tarantino's movies, subsequent viewings may well reveal this to be up there with the very best of his stuff.
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Running time: 165 mins
THE SESSIONS (18) Bold, honest and intimate - but inconclusive
SEVERELY disabled by polio, Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes) is confined to bed unable to move anything but his head.
He's a writer, and his poetic narration provides a strong backdrop to this unusual drama that changes direction when he decides to hire a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) because he's unable to engage with women in the usual ways. Hawkes takes a run at awards bait with what must have been an extremely challenging physical performance to pull off, since everything about Mark must be conveyed facially, and he can count himself unlucky not to have been Oscar nominated. Hunt has been nominated, possibly because she spends a lot of time disrobed, but she's equally impressive. There's a fine dynamic in the abundant talk between them, and Mark's conversations with William H. Macy's priest are funny, but though bold, honest and intimate, The Sessions doesn't really go anywhere in the end.
Director: Ben Lewin
Running time: 93 mins
THE WEE MAN (18) Glasgow gangster flick is a a tatty attempt at a Goodfellas tribute act
THIS dramatised account of the life of infamous Glasgow hardman Paul Ferris opens with Ferris (Martin Compston) in jail, flashing back to him as a wee boy, as his dad (Denis Lawson) tells him in portentous terms about how to live his life.
We see the bullies and hoods that shaped him, in the most black and white terms, with no subtext or subtlety, interspersed with his years in prison, his beefs with other gangs and his association with gangland leader Arthur Thompson (Patrick Bergen).
Irrespective of the veracity or appropriateness of the content, this is simply a poorly made film, a tatty attempt at a Goodfellas tribute act, populated by over-annunciating actors playing clumping characters who talk stiffly to themselves and each other about who and what they are.
Getting slapped round the ear by the clumsy, on the nose dialogue quickly becomes wearying, though the ins and out of the actual gangstering does offer a bit of respite.
Top performers like Compston, John Hannah and Stephen McCole do come out of it with some dignity, no mean feat given some of their lines.
Director: Ray Burdis
Running time: 106 mins