(On TV, September 2013) Marriage isn’t easy, and as the sorely tempted protagonist of I Think I Love My Wife discovers, nobody has the answers leading to perpetual bliss. Written and directed by Chris Rock, this comedy is an honest (if uneven) look at the life of a bored husband suddenly seduced by someone from his past. Rock keeps the lead role for himself, giving the female lead role as the temptress to Kerry Washington. (Meanwhile, poor Gina Torres is stuck as the nagging shrew, but that’s how the script goes.) Much of the film’s best laughs come from its cynical observational humor, especially in the first part of the film as the protagonist can’t help but let his domestic disillusionment contaminate even his fantasies. (But then again, the film is co-written by Louis C.K., who’s made a career out of domestic disillusionment.) Rock is sympathetic enough as the lead, and the film does toy, as expected, with how far it can go while keeping our sympathy. The one single biggest false note of the film comes late as the married couple inexplicably launches into song, killing what should have been a heartfelt moment with dumb silliness. Much of I Think I Love My Wife is a bit messy (in that some tangents quickly go nowhere) and it’s considerably tamer than Rock’s stand-up act. Fortunately, Rock isn’t too bad as a director, and the film does have a decent comic timing. While the result is bland enough to have sunk back in obscurity six years later, it’s not a bad film, and there are enough good laughs here and there to make it worth viewing.
(Video on-demand, April 2013) Over the past year, I have willingly forgone an almost-exclusive diet of theater films in favour of extensive sampling from premium cable channels, with the pernicious result that I am seeing a far wider variety in the quality of the films I watch. From made-for-TV stinkers to big-budget critical darlings, I now watch everything and my expectations are now lower (ie: more realistic) than they used to be. These personal considerations are prologue to one stone-cold fact: When such a great film as Django Unchained makes its way inside my brain after so many undistinguished movies, the sheer cinephile pleasure of it seems increased. I’ve long admired nearly everything directed by Quentin Tarantino: his love of moviemaking is so infectious that every single film he makes is a treat for jaded movie fans, his script are unlike anyone else’s, his direction makes the familiar feel fresh and the depth of his films is such that you can spend a long time discussing them. As a gleefully revisionist historical revenge fantasy, Django Unchained feels like a natural follow-up to Inglourious Basterds: It exploits the strengths of exploitation cinema to deliver a fully satisfying entertainment experience, putting power back in the hands of the oppressed and allowing for a graphic depiction of wrongs being righted. It makes full use of a talented cast in order to provide unique moments of cinema. Jamie Foxx is sheer charisma as Django, while Christoph Waltz completely owns his role. Leonardo diCarpio turns in a rare but effective villainous presence, while Kerry Washington singlehandedly raises the emotional stakes of the film. It takes its time in order to build single-scene suspense of a sort seldom seen in more average films. But the exploitation/entertainment label that is so easily affixed to Django Unchained can mask something far more interesting: in fully showing the viciousness of slavery required for vengeance to be so effective, Django Unchained goes farther than most similarly-themed movies in graphically condemning this ugly chapter of American history. It takes an exploitation film like this one to go where more serious films won’t dare, and this one is gleefully unrepentant in allowing the downtrodden to punish their exploiters. When you combine such crowd-pleasing intentions with top-notch filmmaking skill, the result is irresistible and quickly climbs up year’s-best listings. Django Unchained is, warts and slavery and self-indulgence included, a sumptuous cinematic feast and a splendid piece of entertainment. Don’t dare miss it.