The Hateful Eight: a bounty hunter and his prisoner get snowed-in at a cabin stop with six strangers, but “one of them fellas is not what he says he is”. Most of the actors get to do what they do best: grouchy Kurt grumbles magnificently; magnetic Goggins spits out redneck ramblings; Sam J does his shouty-preaching; Roth ponses around; in fact, Madsen is the only actor that doesn’t really get any good screentime. Despite the huge names, Señor Bob (Demián Bichir) steals the show for me with a ridiculously terrific comedy performance and accent. There’s some absolutely stunning exploitation gore, blood sprays, head explosions, etc, etc – all electrifying for even the most hardened splatter aficionados. As you’ll have read everywhere; the main issue with H.E. is that it’s simply far, far, far too long. It takes over 45 minutes to get to the cabin setting; an hour ‘til we get to the crux of the movie; and even with 2hr40min of dialogue heavy scenes, a narrator (voiced by QT, obvz) is still required to throw in more details – how sloppy and empty can the writing get? In fact, most people’s issues with Django seem to be applicable here too: it’s almost as if Tarantino is intentionally trolling his own audience (too many n-bombs, too long, no censorship…). Finally, a massive deal was made about resurrecting the ultra-Panavision 70mm format: but exterior shots are pretty much whiteouts, and the last two hours are confined to a cabin interior – which leaves you yearning for epic vistas. With his last few films, Tarantino is starting to come across as a ‘brat’ director (surrounded by ‘yes men’); refusing to cut out flabby parts, censor himself, or make any changes to his precious baby. Boiled down: The Hateful Eight is simply a decadent, elaborate, and extremely self-indulgent Reservoir Dogs remake: and a very testing setup for what’s essentially a room full of people shooting each other… again.
22 Jump Street: when a newer drug (WhyPhy) appears at a college campus, so the dream team must go back undercover to infiltrate and take down the operation. I’d say this is hands-down better, and more consistently funny than the original (which was a great comedy film); playing with the familiar College/Frat and Buddy Cop genres; but having that extra cushion of self-referential jokes about 21 Jump Street in there too – of which there are plenty. As pointed out early by Ice Cube, it sticks rigidly to the structure of the first movie – but can afford to do so because of the great script, absolutely solid comedic timing from the central characters, and a strong ensemble cast. It also contains a fantastic tongue-in-cheek end credits sequence. 22 Jump Street is exactly more of the same, but when the original is so funny, is that really a bad thing?
White House Down: a group of mercenaries storm the White House leaving an aspiring Secret Serviceman as the President’s – and America’s – only hope. They’ve only gone and made “Die Hard in the White House”, again! It’s easy to confuse this with Olympus has Fallen, but in a duel for the oval office this one wins hands-down, mostly due to the entertainment-factor; it’s the true embodiment of the term ‘action romp’. Everything that can do so, explodes during big set pieces that punctuate the movie, and is generously littered with laughs too – by the end I was even guilty of a few fist-pumps. I’d go as far as saying that it’s the kind of movie that – at least on paper – we should all hate: big, loud, dumb, derivative, but the director seems to know this, and fully embraces it – cheesing everything up to 11. The only real downside is that it’s a tad on the long side (for the kind of film it is). If you want a cheesy 80s/90s big-budget one-man-army taking on waves of despicable henchmen, look no further. Fly this DVD up your flagpoles, ‘MURICA!
Magic Mike: loosely based on Channing Tatum’s early career (supposedly), it depicts the lives of several male strippers; some of whom want to party all the time, but others want more than the superficial lifestyle. Not really sure what the film was trying to convey… life is tough when you’re a stripper? Yeah, it must totally suck to be a handsome, young, guy that women will do anything to bone – SYMPATHY FAIL! McConaughey is on top crazy form – doing that deranged southern thang that only he can do this well. Is Magic Mike essentially Striptease / Showgirls for women? Pretty much, but the main differentiator is that Soderberg is behind the camera, so it’s done with an indie sensibility; and has been coloured/filtered to oblivion. When it comes to the crunch, it doesn’t feel like there’s much of a film in here at all, just an excuse for the ladies (and some guys) to see CT, MMc, Kevin Nash and a few other guys all oily and six-packy.
Note: there are a couple of ladies in here… somewhere.
21 Jump street: two useless police officers are assigned to a revived ‘undercover‘ branch of the department. The film’s lucky in that it has two genres to mashup and play with – buddy cop and high school – which it does effectively, although the school element is far, far funnier. The first hour is fantastic, catches you off guard, full of well-observed school humour, and ‘random’ comedy (Korean Jesus, trippy drug scenes etc) – I almost choked at one point. It does however deflate and lose its magic in the second half as it frantically ticks all of the boxes you’d see in a bog-standard cop-buddy story arc. Jonah Hill is funny, but well within his comfort zone; Channing “is there anything he can’t do” Tatum is comedy gold – he hinted at this by being the only good thing about last year’s Dilemma, but this is a whole other level – show stealingly good. For additional smartness there’s a nice run of meta jokes about recycling ideas & humour, and loads of movie tropes – these can be found in the car chase and party scenes. With an emphasis on off-the-wall humour, and a genuinely funny script paired with some great improvisation, 21 Jump Street is a solid contender for comedy of the year.
Haywire: when an ex-marine – now hitwoman – is framed for murder she has to set the record straight, by going straight to the top of the conspiracy. So it’s not the most original story, but the execution and tone make it stand out from the genre. It’s a stripped down travelogue spy thriller – somewhere between a Bourne film and The American – with a throwback feel, like those old-fashioned spy movies you watched with your grandparents. The action is gripping, particularly the Dublin chases and all hand-to-hand combat fighting. The lead actress (an MMA fighter by trade) works surprisingly well, even though she’s been surrounded by decent actors – as sensible backup – she doesn’t stick out much. There’s an interesting soundtrack with the odd scene having retro spy music, but mostly authentic audio that works very well during fights (grunting / punches / breathing), chases (footsteps / cars / traffic lights)… this pushes the dramatic envelope beyond what you normally get. Not unlike Contagion, Soderbergh has firmly rooted everything reality – I also see this as an important breakthrough role for Carano, who I envisage carving out a Statham/Dwane action niche. Continuously credible, and intense for the most part, Haywire is as good as it can be with the knowingly limiting story, and is as honest and believable a spy thriller as you’ll ever see.
The Eagle: twenty years after his father led 5,000 Roman soldiers to their death a rookie tries to restore his family’s name by finding the lost Roman ‘eagle standard’. In a nutshell the biggest problem this film has is lackadaisical direction – every other issue seems to stem from this: naff/ridiculous plot, complacent acting, lazy storytelling… There’s genuinely a scene where a minor character says “To find them you have to go over the snowy hills and into the next glen” – there’s a 5 second shot of our soldiers struggling through snow, and wham – they’re back in normal terrain again!!! Complimenting the visual vomit is the corniest stock Gaelic music, that drones away in the background when the soldiers are in the highlands. To make the film more sellable there are a few gratuitous action scenes but you can’t really see what’s going on, and it winds up a blurry, shaky mess. The only redeeming part is when Mark Strong appears and shows everyone how to act properly! All in, it just all feels a bit amateur, and like more of a project about someone finding their roots / heritage, than wanting to let a decent story take centre stage. If you wish to see a film about southerners taking on crazed tribes of ugly Scottish people check out Doomsday instead! Or if you want to keep it historical – Spartacus.