Quentin Tarantino follows up his war homage Inglourious Basterds with another Oscar-winner, DJANGO UNCHAINED (18: Sony), a thrilling swagger through the good, bad and ugly sides of slavery.
The playfully audacious director throws everything but the kitchen sink at the screen in this mix of spaghetti western, blaxploitation and revisionist American history.
Jamie Foxx plays a slave named Django who’s tracked down by eccentric German bounty hunter Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and offered his freedom in exchange for help in bringing three criminals to justice.
The unlikely allies continue their partnership after the job is done and fight to rescue Django’s wife from a sadistic Mississippi plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio on top villainous form).
It’s overindulgent in that trademark Tarantino way, but acceptably so as he knows which genre movies to lovingly recycle.
His film is blessed with entertaining dialogue, surreal plot twists, a film buff’s dream of a supporting cast and a soundtrack that serves as a Morricone tribute.
Waltz, who picked up an Academy Award for Basterds, won another here for a brilliant performance of ruthless charm personified as Django’s mentor. But the real surprise is Samuel L. Jackson’s skin-crawling portrayal of DiCaprio’s manipulative head servant.
> It’s hard to know what PLAYING FOR KEEPS (12: Lionsgate) is trying to be – sports drama, family comedy, rom-com, midlife crisis movie or sex farce.
Gerard Butler doesn’t have a great track record with US films, but at least he spares us his American accent as a Scottish former footballer who’s hit hard times in suburbia.
He’s relocated to the States to bond with a son he’s neglected, and potentially get back together with the lad’s mum (Jessica Biel).
Soon he’s conscripted to train his boy’s after-school soccer team and along the way starts to service the sex-starved moms.
These saucy interludes sit very oddly with the father-son bonding, although there are enjoyable moments thanks to a seductive, manipulative Catherine Zeta-Jones.
However, Uma Thurman seems to think she’s in a Carry On film, alldoe-eyed panting and heaving bosoms, while Dennis Quaid is on auto-pilot as her greasy wheeler-dealer husband.
> Workmanlike drama TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (12: Warner) stars Clint Eastwood as Gus, an ageing baseball scout in the twilight of his career.
He sets off on one last recruiting trip to find the game’s next golden boy, but as his eyes are giving him trouble, his neglected lawyer daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) is persuaded to accompany him.
Hotshot rival scout Johnny (Justin Timberlake) enters the equation, but will the youngsters’ budding romance bring Gus and Mickey closer or drive them further apart?
All the expected dysfunctional family buttons are pushed, with Eastwood playing a variation of a character we’ve seen a few times before – part curmudgeonly war veteran of Gran Torino, part awkward parental figure of Million Dollar Baby.