We're liking "Django Unchained," the late Charles Durning, a cowboy Christmas, Cindy Sherman and Katie Roiphe.
1 The revenge western "Django Unchained" is a hell-for-leather hoot. Quentin Tarantino's colorful patchwork turns a sublimely old-fashioned genre into something fresh and interesting, with a dream team of Oscar-winning leads. Jamie Foxx plays a slave named Django and Christoph Waltz is Dr. King Schultz, a German bounty hunter who takes Django as a partner. Right there, with "Dr. King" liberating a black man, you understand that this is going to be exploitation filmmaking with some thematic bite to it.
2 Charles Durning, who died on Christmas Eve at 89, is known to mass audiences for playing Jessica Lange's dad in "Tootsie," but his turn as another patriarch in "Home for the Holidays" (the good one, with Holly Hunter, directed by Jodie Foster) is even better. He presides over the rest of his tension-fraught family with loving calm, and when he sings "The Very Thought of You," he could make the whole world want to sit in his lap. So long, Papa Bear.
3 The country-Christmas confection currently running at Plymouth Playhouse looks great and polished, as we have come to expect of Troupe American productions. "Christmas on the Ranch, a Cowboy Musical" will have country fans tapping their toes, as the band Tree Party sharply articulates twangy harmonies, and Plymouth Playhouse regulars Tim Drake and Chuck Deeter reliably get their laughs with well wrought characters and "Hee Haw" humor hung on a story set in the Dakota badlands on Christmas Eve 1961.
4 The curious thing about Cindy Sherman, 58, is that she appears in virtually all of her pictures and yet she's never there. As her filmmaker friend John Waters puts it, she is a "female female impersonator." A 35-year retrospective of the photographer's work at Walker Art Center through Feb. 13 shows her dressed up, dressed down and dressed as a clown. In 160 mostly large-scale color photos, she's a socialite, a film-noir vixen, a collection of body parts. Sherman is the invisible presence here, scrutinizing the wrinkles, mimicking the gestures, clicking the shutter and then slipping out the door.
5 Katie Roiphe knows she irritates some people, like the writers of Gawker, who most recently called her "wide-eyed" and "bourgeois." Does she look like she cares? Roiphe's essay collection "In Praise of Messy Lives" examines the effects of various modern forces, from Facebook and Twitter to obsessively health-conscious parenting. While it's true she's writing from a catbird seat of privilege -- it's easier for an Ivy-League-educated, well connected woman to be a single mother in New York City than it is for most -- Roiphe cuts through a lot of crap to make salient observations.
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