Sunday, 3 March 2013

Roundup: Django Unchained, Lincoln, Mama

Despite being too lazy to post full reviews, I did in fact catch a fair number of films over the past couple of months (of varying quality and import). Here's a wee round up of three of these:

Django Unchained

Tarantino’s latest – the tall tale of freed slave Django on the trail of his still-enslaved wife Broomhilda – is also my least favourite of his films. There are slick moments: it’s at its best when it verges into Jodorowsky-esque Grand Guignol surrealism and Leonardo Di Caprio and Samuel L. Jackson both excel as the villainous duo; there also is something to be said  for making a freed slave the agent of his own spectacular vengeance.

However, there’s just too much filler and nonsense – wayward editing and flabby writing are big root-causes – and ultimately there’s a sense that QT has regressed into self-indulgence and auto-congratulation beyond the depths even of Death Proof. For each ‘Tarantino’ flourish or quirk that hits home, there are two or three that don’t – and Christoph Walz’s white-mirror version of SS Colonel Landa (archetypal Good German in the hero’s helper role) only serves to remind the viewer of the far superior Inglourious Basterds. Disappointing.



Swimming in similar waters to Django, but with an entirely different stroke is Spielberg’s Lincoln, which has been overpraised by similar proportions to which his previous film War Horse was unfairly criticised. While Tony Kushner works hard to ensure his script is even-handed and sensitive, I feel that Spielberg hasn’t been able to help himself in inserting a needless father-son-crisis thread and regrettable shots of grateful black faces looking wistfully at Kind Mister Lincoln as strings swell in the background.

On the whole though, it isn’t bad and of course Daniel Day-Lewis is stellar as the titular prez, wheezing in from the wings with hands clasped behind back. The supporting cast provide a tour-de-force of American character acting: almost too many to mention, but let’s nod to the never-bad David Straithern, Tommy Lee Jones’s fulminating radical, Jackie Earl Haley’s villainous southerner, an almost unrecognisable James Spader and a put-upon Sally Field as Mrs Lincoln. In short, not the epoch-making masterpiece it is purported to be, but certainly watchable, informative and occasionally spectacular.



In a completely different meter altogether is Mama, mendaciously billed as a product of Guillermo del Toro’s imagination (he merely – air quotes – co-produces). It’s a straightforward supernatural horror: two tots abandoned in the US backwoods acquire a gnarly supernatural guardian; upon their rescue and return to small-town civilization, it appears said guardian is unwilling to abandon its charges.

For a blunt instrument flick with mostly-cheap jumps it’s a salvageable mess – Jessica Chastain plays against type as goth-rocker adoptive mom, there’s some clever camera-work and the two kids are also very good. But the silly premise, inconsistent internal mythos, well-worn mother theme (cf. a thousand other cheapo horror films) and ludicrous explain-that-to-the-authorities denouement sit Mama in the might-have-been category. Still, I would keep a close eye on director Andres Muschietti in the future.



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