' Django Unchained'
3 stars = Good
This Quentin Tarantino film, set in the South a few years before the Civil War, stars Jamie Foxx as Django, a slave whose brutal history with his former owners brings him face to face with a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz). He is on the trail of murderous brothers and only Django can lead him to his bounty.
Oscar-winner Waltz, who also won for "Inglourious Basterds," creates another distinctive character for the director.
This time around, he's joined by a gleefully villainous landowner Leonardo DiCaprio and Mr. Foxx as a slave in the pre-Civil War South who embarks on a journey for freedom, his beloved wife and Western-style justice.
That means bullets, lots of bullets, and blood that gushes, splashes and sprays in a way moviegoers will find stylized, Tarantino-esque or stomach-turning.
The movie is an homage to spaghetti Westerns but with improbable buddies, a married couple separated by the savagery of slavery and a plantation payback scheme.
There are lots of people cameos, including Jonah Hill, Bruce Dern, Russ Tamblyn, Amber Tamblyn, and Pittsburgher and special effects makeup guru Tom Savini. Samuel L. Jackson, buried under old-man makeup, gets a choice role as an elderly slave who has cared for the landowner since birth and functions as majordomo.
There's a lot of picture to watch -- 165 minutes' worth, which is far too long. That's even taking into account the darkly humorous moments, one involving Klansmen hoods that seems like an inappropriate TV sketch, and harrowing scenes in which a man is hung upside down like a slaughtered animal.
Extras include the featurette "Remembering J. Michael Riva" on the film's production design, making-of short, soundtrack spot. The blu-ray adds "Reimagining the Spaghetti Western: The Horses and Stunts of 'Django Unchained'" and a featurette on costume design.
' The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia'
2 1/2 stars = Average
This latest tale of terror based on a true story offers a few good scares and a consistently creepy tone.
It does fall into the horror film trap of gleaning a lot of its scares from terrorizing a child -- in this case a young girl played by Emily Alyn Lind, who looks like a very young Drew Barrymore. Hiding behind the fact the story's based on real events doesn't excuse taking such an easy scare tactic.
It get points for an original backdrop, as you don't see many horror movies with a Civil War theme. The lead villain also could easily follow in the bloody footsteps of Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger.
The film has a nice haunting feel to it even if it has a geographically confusing name.
-- Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapers
' Orchestra of Exiles'
Josh Aronson's film shows how the great violinist Bronislaw Huberman saved as many as a thousand lives from Hitler by creating the Palestine, now Israel, Philharmonic.
Mr. Aronson's film takes dutiful note of Huberman's life as prodigy and virtuoso. But only on reaching Palestine does it become genuinely interesting. Still, reenactment scenes are not the film's strength. Cameos by Ivry Gitlis, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Leon Botstein, reminiscences of second- and third-generation orchestra players, and interviews with surviving contemporaries cover a multitude of soft spots.
Archival stills recall a place where the Promised Land showed unimagined promise, and the best of times met the worst of times in a minimally watered landscape of cars, camels, Bauhaus apartment buildings and unpaved streets.
Extras: filmmaker interview, featurettes "The Power of Music," "Music Education: The Legacy of the IPO," "Huberman's Dream" and "Why Jews Stayed in Europe."
-- Washington Post
' One Day on Earth'
On 10/10/10 across the planet, documentary filmmakers, students and other people recorded the human experience over a 24-hour period and contributed their voices to a global day of media creation called "One Day on Earth."
The first simultaneous filming event occurring in every country in the world, it became a showcase of the amazing diversity, conflict, tragedy and triumph that occur in one day.
Extras: behind-the-scenes footage; extended scenes.
-- Washington Post
ALSO THIS WEEK:
"A Monster in Paris": Paris is being terrorized by a very different kind of monster -- a giant flea. He's really not as much a monster as a dapper dresser and beautiful crooner who he gets to show his talent when he joins songstress Lucille (Vanessa Paradis) on stage. He's able to pull off the ruse for a short time because of a "Phantom of the Opera" style disguise.
"The Girl": The made-for-cable movie shows how Tippi Hedren had two minor professional acting credits before getting selected to star in the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock thriller "The Birds."
"Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore": Iron Man must stop bio-enhanced monsters.
"Not Suitable for Children": A young man races to become a father.
"Alice: The Complete Third Season": Linda Lavin stars in the CBS comedy series set in a diner.
"Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird": Feature film starring the TV gang.
"By Dawn's Early Light": Two pilots face the potential start of World War III.
"Quentin Tarantino Presents Triple Feature": Includes "The Mighty Peking Man," "Detroit 9000" and "Switchblade Sisters."
"Ben 10: Destroy All Aliens": Ben Tennyson returns to his alien fighting ways.
"Counting Cars: Season 1": Danny Koker and his team restore cars.
"Fraggle Rock: The Complete Second Season": Tales of a group of an always busy group of tiny workers.
"Last of Summer Wine: Vintage 1998": Long running British comedy TV series.
"Parade's End": A young Judi Dench stars in this 1964 film adaptation of the Ford Madox Ford novel.
"Save the Date": Two sisters battle through the dating world. Alison Brie stars.
"Dragon": A shy hero draws the attention of the Chinese underworld.
"Daktari: The Complete Second Season": TV jungle drama.
"Spies of Warsaw": David Tennant stars in the World War II spy drama.
"At the Gate of the Ghost": Details of a murder mystery are told by three witnesses.
"Police Story / Police Story II": Two action films starring Jackie Chan.
"Disneynature: Wings of Life": Meryl Streep narrates.
"Future Weather": A young girl tries to spread the word about global warming.
"Delhi Safari": Mismatched animals take on the human race.
-- Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapers