After the Academy Awards last week there is often a rush to the cinemas – especially with Japan playing catch-up with some releases. Best Picture, Argo, actually gets a DVD rental release in Japan this month, but as for the big screen, there are plenty of other nominated/winning films out this month.
By Christopher O’Keeffe
Django Unchained – March 1st
Quentin Tarantino has been a director to watch ever since his explosive feature-length debut, Reservoir Dogs, way back in 1992. He has been criticised in recent years for making films less relevant than they once were and for his unabashed, over-the-top borrowing of the kitsch and the retro from cinema’s past but his last, 2009’s Inglorious Basterds, was seen as something of a return to form – the eight Academy Award nominations it garnered goning some way to prove that point.
Django Unchained was also up for the Academy’s Best Picture award and that’s not the only similarity it shares with its predecessor: it takes a historical setting, this time the Old West as opposed to the second world war, and places on it Tarantino’s trademark dialogue and ultra-violence.
The story concerns Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave who enters into a deal with Christopher Waltz’s bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz. In exchange for his freedom and the chance to track down his wife and take revenge on the man who now owns her (Leonardo DiCaprio’s villainous plantation owner, Calvin Candie) Django will help Schultz in his bounty hunting and learn the skills of the trade along the way.
Kerry Washington stars as Django’s wife, Broomhilda, and Samuel L. Jackson makes an appearance as Candie’s loyal house slave. Like last months Zero Dark Thirty the film has received high praise but also heavy criticism centering around it’s treatment of the difficult subject of slavery and its very heavy use of racially charged language, which has been defended as ‘of its time’ but to modern ears can be difficult to stomach.
Oz: The Great and Powerful – March 8th
The Wizard of Oz is cinema at its finest. It contains some of the most memorable characters, scenes and songs ever laid down on celluloid, not to mention its stunning use of glorious technicolor.
There’s only been one unofficial sequel to the timeless 1939 classic, 1985’s wonderful and slightly terrifying Return to Oz, a very different and much darker film than its predecessor.
Oz: The Great and Powerful sees Disney hoping to mimic the box office success it had with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland; again this is a colourful and CG laden take on a classic children’s adventure. Set before the events of the original movie, we follow circus magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco) as he is whisked away to the magical land of Oz, where his chances at fame and fortune are tested by an array of problems, including three witches played by Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams.
The (Tobey Maguire-era) Spider-man trilogy’s Sam Raimi is at the helm of an epic fantasy adventure that should prove a hit with kids and fans of epic, imaginative fantasy alike.
The Master – March 22nd
With films increasingly being released internationally on the same day, the wait for a film to reach Japan is not as bad as it once was, though occasionally it can still be torturous.
The wait to see Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master has been one of those dark times. Released at last year’s Venice film festival, in September, at which it won the Best Picture award, the film proved hugely popular with critics and many called it one of the best films of 2012.
Star Joaquin Phoenix was last seen playing himself in the mock documentary I’m Still Here, claiming to have given up acting to embark on a rap career – thankfully he has done no such thing and dazzles with a return to form.
Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, who struggles to cope with a return to civilian life after the second world war. When Quell meets the charismatic Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the leader of a new religion, he is soon accepted into the fold and travels with the man to spread the word.
The film was inspired by the life and times of controversial science-fiction writer and founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, who previously worked with P.T. Anderson on There Will Be Blood, composed the score.
Cloud Atlas – March 15th
Cloud Atlas is the latest work from Lana and Andy Wachowski, who exploded onto the scene and stunned the world with The Matrix in 1999 and then thoroughly disappointed with the overblown sequels that followed.
This time around they have teamed up with German director Tom Tykwer, who made his name with the excellent Run, Lola, Run, to make an ambitious adaptation of a complicated novel by David Mitchell. Containing separate stories taking place in several different time periods, including the Pacific of the 19th century, the present, neo-Seoul (not unlike parts of Tokyo now!) and a post-apocolyptic future, the film aims to show how lives are connected and actions can ripple through time.
Parts in each of the segments are played by the same actors so Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw and Hugh Grant amongst others make a variety of appearances in many different guises.
While not all the character changes are entirely successful this is a bold work that is sure to divide opinion so make sure to check it out for yourself.
Amour – March 9th (Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards)
Director and screenwriter Michael Haneke’s films can often be a difficult watch; the director’s attempts to highlight social failings can often be harsh and confrontational but he is nevertheless one of the best directors in the world right now at producing thought-provoking, intelligent cinema.
Amour is the story of Georges and Ann, an elderly couple whose relationship is tested when Ann suffers a stroke, leaving half of her body paralysed. The film has been universally praised and it has earned nominations and awards at film festivals all over the world, including the Palme d’or at Cannes and Best Foreign Film at the Oscars.
Emmanuelle Riva, who plays Ann, picked up a nomination for Best Actress at this year’s Oscars; at 85 she is the oldest person to have done so. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert also star.
Flight – March 1st
Denzel Washington’s latest, Flight is the story of an airline pilot, Whip Whitaker, who is hailed as a hero after he averts disaster by miraculously landing his plane under extreme circumstances, saving most of the people on board.
In the aftermath of the landing questions arise over Whip’s character and what really happened aboard the catastrophe-stricken flight. Director Robert Zemeckis, best known for having made the Back To The Future trilogy and Forrest Gump, makes his return to live action filmmaking after having spent the past few years working on animated features.
The cast is filled with talent including Don Cheadle and Jon Goodman as Whip’s attorney and drug dealer respectively. This tense drama offers an engrossing character study carried along by a riveting central performance from Denzel Washington, who is at his best.