'Django Unchained,' 'Les Misérables,' and 10 more new flicks
FILM To paraphrase Christmas Vacation (1989), 2012 is poised to deliver the biggest late-December film glut since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny Fucking Kaye. From Wednesday, December 19 to Tuesday, December 25, no less than 12 new movies are opening in the Bay Area, doomsday be damned.
Because I would not want to steer you wrong in this most wonderful time of the year — and since the movie everyone's buzzing about, Zero Dark Thirty, doesn't open in San Francisco until January 4; trust me, it's worth the wait — I'm taking a cue from the man with the bag and making a list, checking it twice, etc. Who's naughty, and who's nice? Read on for my rundown of this year's holiday movies.
Top of the food chain: Er, unchained. Django Unchained (out Tue/25), that is. Quentin Tarantino's spaghetti western homage features a cameo by the original Django (Franco Nero, star of the 1966 film), and solid performances by a meticulously assembled cast, including Jamie Foxx as the titular former slave who becomes a badass bounty hunter under the tutelage of Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Waltz, who won an Oscar for playing the evil yet befuddlingly delightful Nazi Hans Landa in Tarantino's 2009 Inglourious Basterds, is just as memorable (and here, you can feel good about liking him) as a quick-witted, quick-drawing wayward German dentist.
There are no Nazis in Django, of course, but Tarantino's taboo du jour (slavery) more than supplies motivation for the filmmaker's favorite theme (revenge). Once Django joins forces with Schultz, the natural-born partners hatch a scheme to rescue Django's still-enslaved wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), whose German-language skills are as unlikely as they are convenient. Along the way (and it's a long way; the movie runs 165 minutes), they encounter a cruel plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose main passion is the offensive, shocking "sport" of "Mandingo fighting," and his right-hand man, played by Tarantino muse Samuel L. Jackson in a transcendently scandalous performance.
And amid all the violence and racist language and Foxx vengeance-making, there are many moments of screaming hilarity, as when a character with the Old South 101 name of Big Daddy (Don Johnson) argues with the posse he's rounded up over the proper construction of vigilante hoods. It's a classic Tarantino moment: pausing the action so characters can blather on about something trivial before an epic scene of violence. Mr. Pink would approve.
A disaster movie to make you rethink your tropical vacation: Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona (2007's The Orphanage) directs The Impossible (Fri/21), a relatively modestly-budgeted take on the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, based on the real story of a Spanish family who experienced the disaster. Here, the family (Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, three young sons) is British, on a Christmas vacation from dad's high-stress job in Japan.
Beachy bliss is soon ruined by that terrible series of waves; they hit early in the film, and Bayona offers a devastatingly realistic depiction of what being caught in a tsunami must feel like: roaring, debris-filled water threatening death by drowning, impalement, or skull-crushing. And then, the anguish of surfacing, alive but injured, stranded, and miles from the nearest doctor, not knowing if your family members have perished.