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Pure, unabashed feel-good family entertainment with a script just bursting with gags

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 18, 2013

  • John Hawkes plays paralysed poet and journalist Mark O'Brien in The Sessions

  • John Goodman and Billy Crystal are on top form in Monsters, Inc. 3D, above, lending their distinctive vocals to their unforgettable partners in crime in a screenplay with plenty of laughs. Right, Jamie Foxx as Django and Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie in Django Unchained

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Animation/Comedy/Action. Featuring the voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, James Coburn, Jennifer Tilly, Bonnie Hunt, Steve Buscemi, John Ratzenberger. Director: Pete Docter, Lee Unkrich, David Silverman.

Since the release of Toy Story 3, the Oscar-winning computer animation wizards at Disney Pixar have embraced the technological and creative might of 3D with gusto.

Re-issues of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 whetted our appetite for more digitally enhanced treats from the studio's back catalogue.

A revamp of Finding Nemo was released across the Atlantic last year but hasn't swum to these shores yet.

Thankfully, with Monsters University set for release in the summer, Pete Docter's glorious 2002 fantasy, which taps into universal fears of creatures under the bed, enjoys another joyous moment in the spotlight.

Monsters, Inc. has lost none of its power to charm in the eye-popping format.

The climatic chase through rows of children's doors is especially thrilling with the added depth of vision.

James P Sullivan, aka Sulley (voiced by John Goodman), and best friend Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) are top of their game in the child-scaring business.

Working out of Monsters Inc. ("We Scare Because We Care"), the largest scream-processing factory in Monstropolis, the fun-loving double-act scare countless unsuspecting moppets by leaping out of wardrobes.

Monstropolis is powered by human screams so it is imperative that Sulley and his colleagues meet their daily targets.

Alas, 21st century children are increasingly difficult to spook – must be the overexposure to violent television programmes and video games – so the city is in the grip of a fuel crisis.

Henry J Waternoose (James Coburn), big boss at Monsters, Inc., is acutely aware that the fate of thousands rests in the paws, tentacles and claws of his loyal employees.

Humans are forbidden in the monster world – they are considered a health risk – so when Sulley accidentally brings a human girl named Boo into Monstropolis, hell breaks loose.

Monsters, Inc. is pure, unabashed feel-good family entertainment, boasting dazzling visuals, lovable characters and a script crammed to bursting with gags.

John Goodman and Billy Crystal are on top form, lending their distinctive vocals to their unforgettable partners in crime.

The screenplay provides them with plenty of big laughs, but the ad-libs are equally hilarious.

Stay for the hilarious end-of-credits out-takes, complete with fluffed lines, misplaced props and collapsing scenery.

Steve Buscemi is delightfully loathsome as the villain of the piece, and Jennifer Tilly provides ample light relief as Mike's medusa-like love interest.

The level of detail on the main characters, such as the realistic movement of Sulley's fur, still dazzles 11 years after the film's original release.

There are sly in-jokes aplenty for eagle-eyed fans – one of the restaurants is called Harryhausen's, named after the pioneering stop-motion animator.

Ralph Eggleston's Oscar-winning short For The Birds, which precedes the main feature, has also been loving converted into 3D. His simple idea – birds of a feather bully together – is brilliantly executed.

Western/Action/Drama/Comedy/Romance. Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L Jackson, Walton Goggins, James Remar, Jonah Hill. Director: Quentin Tarantino.

Revenge is a dish best served cold and Quentin Tarantino turns the temperature gauge to subzero in this blood-soaked western inspired by Sergio Corbucci's 1966 revenge thriller Django starring Franco Nero.

Set in 1858, Django Unchained energises a simple tale of redemption with the writer-director's characteristic flair behind the lens and on the page. A superfluous interlude with poorly prepared Ku Klux Klan members, who can barely see out of hoods made by one of their wives, is hysterical. "If all I had to do was cut a hole in a bag, I coulda cut it better than this!" sneers one of the posse.

Tarantino guns down political correctness at every turn, not least with the creation of a black slave, played with fire and brimstone-spouting fury by Samuel L Jackson, who is even more racist than his white masters.

It's little wonder that fellow film-maker Spike Lee, who has taken Tarantino to task for his love of the n-word in the past, has courted controversy by publicly stating his intention to boycott Django Unchained because it is disrespectful to his ancestors.

How Spike intends to accurately judge a piece of art without actually viewing remains a mystery.

The bullets start flying "somewhere in Texas" when two slave merchants, the Speck brothers, meet a German dentist called Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) on the road one night.

It turns out that the flamboyant European is also a bounty hunter and Schultz kills the Specks in order to release slave Django (Jamie Foxx) from his shackles.

Django is valuable because he the only man who can identify the murderous Brittle brothers.

Having been granted his freedom, Django agrees to help Schultz kill the siblings. "Kill white folks and get paid for it, what's not to like?" he quips.

Django subsequently learns that his beloved wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) has fallen into the clutches of a slippery plantation owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), and Schultz pledges his allegiance on a suicidal rescue mission.

Django Unchained boasts some bravura sequences including slow-motion gun fights and snappy flashbacks. However, you can have too much of a good thing. Tarantino's vision runs to a buttock-numbing 165 minutes and hollers – unheard – for a judicious editor to prune the extraneous guff. He could happily lose swathes of the final act, including scenes when the director plies a laughable accent as a bumbling Australian slave driver.

Foxx is tightly wound as a vengeful husband, playing the straight man to larger-than-life performances from Waltz, DiCaprio and Jackson.

The love story with Washington has some surprisingly tender moments but whenever it seems Tarantino might be going soft, his characters unleash a blitzkrieg of expletives and cock their pistols.

The body count, like the running time, is unapologetically excessive.

Drama/Romance. John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H Macy, Moon Bloodgood, Annika Marks, Adam Arkin. Director: Ben Lewin.

Once in a while, an actor delivers a performance of such raw emotional power that it's impossible to tear your eyes from the screen. John Hawkes, who received an Oscar nomination in 2011 for the indie drama Winter's Bone, achieves the staggering feat in The Sessions.

In Ben Lewin's magnificent film, he plays poet and journalist Mark O'Brien, who was paralysed from the neck down by childhood polio and required an iron lung to breathe.

O'Brien's wit and courage were brilliantly immortalised in Jessica Yu's Oscar-winning 1996 documentary short Breathing Lessons.

Laying on gurneys and beds for almost the entire film, Hawkes effortlessly conveys his character's maelstrom of insecurities with fearlessness and tenderness.

It's a virtuoso portrayal of a gentle spirit who refused to be overwhelmed by his disability, and recalls the tour-de-force theatrics of Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot.

Hawkes really is THAT good.

His omission from this year's Best Actor nominations at the Academy Awards is bewildering.

The Sessions begins with Mark completely reliant on his pretty nurse Amanda (Annika Marks) to survive.

He gradually falls in love with her, only to be rebuffed – she simply doesn't feel the same.

"Welcome to the human race – every day, somebody breaks somebody else's heart," a friend consoles Mark.

Amanda quits and no-nonsense Vera (Moon Bloodgood) takes over day-to-day duties, wheeling Mark around California with a breathing tube.

When he is asked to pen a feature on Sex And The Disabled, Mark is introduced to married sex surrogate Cheryl (Helen Hunt), who believes she can help him overcome his self-doubt and perceived limitations during six one-to-one sessions.

Cheryl slowly breaks down Mark's defences with body awareness exercises, then builds his confidence to achieve intercourse, which one male character amusingly describes as "overrated... but necessary".

An intense bond forms between the two, and after each meeting, Cheryl returns to compile her notes before cuddling up to her husband Josh (Adam Arkin), who is completely accepting of her unusual choice of professional.

However, when Mark pens Cheryl a poem to express his deep feelings, Josh loses his veneer of cool, fearful that professional and personal boundaries could be crossed during their encounters behind closed doors.

The Sessions eschews smuttiness and mawkish sentiment, presenting Mark's condition with unflinching candour. Hawkes commands every elegantly crafted frame. Not once does he trade on pity, allowing us to see past the physical and into Mark's fragile, wounded heart.

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