‘‘Amour’’ — Michael Haneke takes a subject you don’t often see in movies and probably don’t even want to see — the slow, steady deterioration of an elderly woman — and handles it with great grace. The Austrian writer-director, who’s achieved a reputation for a certain mercilessness over the years through films like ‘‘Cache’’ and ‘‘Funny Games,’’ displays a surprising and consistent humanity here, and draws unadorned but lovely performances from his veteran stars, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva. Haneke focuses on the intimate moments of their changing lives as the longtime married couple remains holed up in their comfortable Paris apartment, coping day to day, waiting for eventual death. It will surely strike a chord with anyone who’s watched a loved one slip away in this manner, whether it’s a parent or a spouse. But Haneke’s aesthetic can feel too stripped-down, too one-note in its dignified monotony. He will hold a shot, as we know, and once again he avoids the use of a score, so all that’s left to focus on is the insular, dreary stillness of quiet descent. Certainly minimalism is preferable to melodrama in telling this kind of story, but Haneke takes this approach to such an extreme that it’s often hard to maintain emotional engagement. PG-13 for mature thematic material including a disturbing act, and for brief language. In French with English subtitles. 125 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
‘‘Django Unchained’’ — For his latest blood fest, Quentin Tarantino largely replays all of his other blood fests, specifically his last flick, ‘‘Inglourious Basterds.’’ In that 2009 tale of wickedly savage retribution, Allied Jewish soldiers get to rewrite World War II history by going on a killing spree of Nazis. In Tarantino’s new tale of wickedly savage retribution, a black man (Jamie Foxx) gets to rewrite Deep South history by becoming a bounty hunter on a killing spree of white slave owners and overseers just before the Civil War. Granted, there’s something gleefully satisfying in watching evil people get what they have coming. But the film is Tarantino at his most puerile and least inventive, the premise offering little more than cold, nasty revenge and barrels of squishing, squirting blood. The usual Tarantino genre mishmash — a dab of blaxploitation here, a dollop of Spaghetti Western there — is so familiar now that it’s tiresome, more so because the filmmaker continues to linger with chortling delight over every scene, letting conversations run on interminably and gunfights carry on to grotesque excess. Bodies bursting blood like exploding water balloons? Perversely fun the first five or six times, pretty dreary the 20th or 30th. Tarantino always gets good actors who deliver, though, and it’s the performances by Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson that make the film intermittently entertaining amid moments when the characters are either talking one another to death or just plain killing each other. R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity. 165 minutes. Two stars out of four.
— David Germain, AP Movie Writer
‘‘The Impossible’’ — Based on the true story of a family swept away by the deadly tsunami that pummeled Southeast Asia in 2004, director Juan Antonio Bayona’s drama is about as subtle as a wall of water. The depiction of the natural disaster itself is visceral and horrifying — impeccable from a production standpoint. And Naomi Watts gives a vivid, deeply committed performance as the wife and mother of three young boys who finds the strength to persevere despite desolation and debilitating injuries. But man, is this thing heavy-handed. Watts and Ewan McGregor play Maria and Henry, a happily married British couple spending Christmas at a luxury resort in Thailand with their three adorable sons. (The real-life family whose story inspired the film was Spanish; changing their ethnicity and casting famous people to play them seems like a rather transparent attempt to appeal to a larger audience.) During a quiet morning by the pool, the first massive wave comes ashore, scattering the family and thousands of strangers across the devastated landscape. ‘‘The Impossible’’ tracks their efforts to survive, reconnect, find medical care and get the hell out of town. The near-misses at an overcrowded hospital are just too agonizing to be true, and the uplifting score swells repeatedly in overpowering fashion to indicate how we should feel. Surely, the inherent drama of this story could have stood on its own two feet. PG-13 for intense, realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury images, and brief nudity. 107 minutes. Two stars out of four.Continued...