Out in the UK this week
Django Unchained (Sony, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)
If you could cross Gone with the Wind, Shaft, and A Fistful of Dollars, you might end up with something like Quentin Tarantino’s lavish entertainment starring Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx as unlikely amigos out to rescue a female slave (Kerry Washington) from plantation owner Leonardo DiCaprio. Starting verbose and staying there – is there a single person in this film who won’t stop talking? – this playful, bloody and tense drama is at its funniest when it leaves Foxx and Waltz to interact. And it’s full of surprises. A fact which extends all the way down to casting decisions – such as Don Johnson as a Southern, Burl Ives-ish piece of work, and Franco Nero (the original Django) receiving a lesson in how to spell his former character’s own name from Jamie Foxx.
Lincoln (Fox, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Abraham Lincoln fights to abolish slavery by a combination of horse-trading and arm-twisting in a surprisingly unsentimental civics lesson from Steven Spielberg. Daniel Day-Lewis plays the 16th US president as a folksy charmer with the silver tongue of a Bill Clinton, the guile of a Richard Nixon. It’s a rich, beautifully appointed coffee-table book of a drama, full of fascinating historical detail and boasting an excellent, idea-driven screenplay by Tony Kushner. Lincoln completely atones for Amistad, which was the last time Spielberg was in this neck of the woods.
Trouble with the Curve (Warner, cert 12, DVD)
Clint Eastwood is tempted back in front of camera, having vowed Gran Torino was his last time, in another Shirty Harry drama – the story of a grouchy old baseball scout leaning heavily on his daughter (Amy Adams) for one last hurrah. The good guys are good and the bad guys are bad in this down-the-line piece of Hollywood storytelling which leads up to the sort of big emotional finish that is entirely inevitable, wholly welcome.
West of Memphis (Sony, cert 15, DVD)
Similar in scope and effect to Errol Morris’s Thin Blue Line, this documentary about young men who spent 18 years in prison for a crime that they clearly didn’t commit, is the fourth film to cover the case of the West Memphis Three. It’s a remarkable and cautionary tale of what happens when over-eager cops with the media down their neck are handed an easy solution, in this case dim heavy metal fans with a fondness for wearing black which makes them an obvious target for a charge of satanic cult slaying.
The Magnificent 11 (Eureka, cert 12, DVD)
Co-written by Irvine Welsh (who turns up as an extra) and with a forlorn “And Robert Vaughn” in the opening credits, which indicates that the last of the Magnificent Seven has lent his name to this peculiar enterprise, here’s a British comedy full of familiar faces. Sean Pertwee and Keith Allen lead the stagger, as members of a struggling Sunday League football team who take sponsorship from a local tandoori restaurant. The script is shocking, none of the relationships make any sense, the plot is laughable, even the football is bloody terrible, and in the opening scene a pair of birds flash their knockers to put off the opposing side’s game. It is, in other words, a brilliant spoof of the heyday of terrible British films – the 1970s, when the main motivation behind a certain style of British movie-making was money laundering. It is a spoof, isn’t it guys?
Bullhead (Soda, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
If you were filled with admiration for Matthias Schoenaerts in Rust and Bone, wait till you see him in Bullhead, playing a man-mountain cattle farmer pumped with synthetic testosterone and seeking payback for a childhood crime so shocking that no matter what he does you’re on his side. Every once in a while Belgium produces a great film, and like Man Bites Dog this is a matter-of-fact depiction of ugliness and brutality, full of flavour, and playing out against a background you don’t see every day – that’s the black market in growth-boosting animal hormones and the gangsters who trade them.
Cleopatra 50th anniversary (Fox, cert PG, Blu-ray)
There is a six hour director’s cut somewhere, but this Blu-ray restoration of what still ranks as one of the most expensive films ever made runs a mere four hours. It is epic in every sense – saw Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor become lovers, almost killed Taylor (look out for the tracheotomy scar), nearly bankrupted Fox. It is an outrageous exercise in Hollywood camp that won Oscars for art direction, cinematography, costume and visual effects and killed the sword and sandal epic for nearly forty years, until Gladiator brought it back to life.
© Steve Morrissey 2013