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.
The Grand Budapest Hotel: a girl reads a book’s prologue, which the author personally sets up; his younger self meeting a hotel owner, who tells him how he came to own a hotel, after he helped a concierge that was once framed for murder. Only that last part is necessary, but hey, this is a Wes Anderson film so suck up the whimsical details you boringly normal douchebag! The ensemble cast is phenomenal – if a little male-centric – to the point where it becomes distracting, but to be fair, the less time you spend thinking about the story the better. Fiennes makes this way funnier than it should have been with his dashing, sweary, and thoroughly entertaining concierge role – an outstanding a piece of comedy-driven anti-casting, in fact, most actors appear to enjoy playing their exaggerated slapstick characters – and on the whole, they’re all fun to watch. There are plenty of great cinematic techniques resurrected here; with models, scale, depth and focus all being used to powerful effect. The cinematography is also meticulous – composition, shapes, balance, symmetry… it’s the epitome of mise-en-scène (any screenshot could be a painting) making Anderson one of the few directors around that give Park Chan–Wook a run for his money. Substance-wise however is where the film falls over, as it feels very light – the story is all shine and no significance beyond the homage to old-timey farces. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a very unique movie, and Anderson’s most entertaining & accessible film to date. Like one of Mendl’s pastries it’s beautiful and admirable, but very light and fluffy.
Brain Damage [AKA Elmer]: a regular guy wakens to find a parasite has made him the new host – he’ll get an addictive and hallucinogenic drug on tap, providing he feeds the alien human brains! The star of this film is the talking alien / parasite / turd / penis / spleen that’s brought to life through claymation, animatronics & other physical effects, and given a surprisingly rational personality (for a villain) like something out of a kid’s cartoon. The humans on the other hand are all pretty campy, but it makes for some ‘laughing at you’ moments. It feels like the director (Henenlotter) is almost too good for this stuff, throwing in a lot of visually arresting moments, like the gore, and some weird psychedelic electrical brain-juice trips which are great to watch – although the ending should probably come with an epilepsy warning. Interestingly, it’s a film that defies categorization: it continually mixes gore, comedy, horror and social commentary – but none of them are strong enough to define the film; think MTV type horny/horror with a more serious tone. Brain Damage is as cheap and ‘B-movie‘ as they come (death, plot, death, boobs, death sleaze…) but it aspires to more in that it’s a unique and left-field mix of offbeat plot and wild visuals – which make it more engaging / entertaining / interesting than rigidly formulaic and dull B-movies. Despite being a heavy-handed parable for drug addiction (with a sexual & homosexual subtext) I’d take this over Requiem for a Dream or Spun any day. A nostalgic oddity that could only come from the 1980s.
B-Movie Score: 8/10
Sicario: a young SWAT member joins a ‘special activities’ task force that may or may not be as legitimate as they first appear. The acting, direction, and visuals are gorgeous and often spellbinding; the characters and plot however… not so much. Very little new ground is covered, particularly with the characters: a naïve by-the-book agent (Blunt), mysterious and dangerous man-with-no-name (del Toro), the charismatic but cynical and amoral team leader (Brolin), questionable American operations, yada yada yada. The central character – who is already an unnecessary audience surrogate – has an even more redundant BFF to more explicitly vocalise her thoughts and attempt to let the dummies at the back know what may be happening (not much is actually revealed until the last 20 minutes). There’s a few nerve-shreddingly intense scenes like the border crossing, tunnel raid, and the last supper; which are paired with bursts of ultra-bleak violence and very graphic gore, which make the movie more grisly – although these felt like they were chasing notoriety, and ‘sexing up’ the otherwise flat tone. The daytime scenes look fantastic, downside being that some of the low-light or night-vision scenes are harder to follow. While Sicario looks fantastic, has the big names, and some dark and memorable scenes it’s far less effective than a straight-up drama like Prisoners: it feels a bit like a Steven Seagal/SWAT plot viewed through another character, and with an arthouse guise – leaving me with the impression that it’s more a film for the critics than the public. Like the pacing, story, shots, and characters, Sicario is intentionally slow and steady.
Tokyo Tribe (AKA Tokyo Tribe2, トウキョウ トライブ トゥー, Tōkyō Toraibu Tū): near future Tokyo is divided into sections ruled by street gangs; but war is about to breakout when one gang tries to take over. Just when you think you’ve seen everything from Japan they throw out a West Side Story style film, acted out almost entirely though musical rap battles – a Hip-HOpera! It’s a sweet idea to begin with, but at two hours long it’s stretched to the limit; the continually repeated drum breaks become grating, and forcing the lines to rhyme means the dialogue feels clunky in parts – although it could be lost in translation. Also, because modern music videos have massive production, parts of this look a bit cheap in comparison. The set and character designs are impressive, epic sprawls of graffiti’d urban decay, futuristic nightclubs, and a grand dining room. Not that this needed it, but the manga origins give this licence to be crazy with some hammy acting (Buppa), big haircuts, robo-mecha babes… classic Japan! The action is well executed, and the large-scale finale battle is particularly impressive. It feels like the director knew that the rap-battles would only be novel for so long (it doesn’t help that the narrator / central character is uncharismatic) so he throws up something risqué every 5 mins or so to perk you up; gratuitous nudity and fondling, or provocative and controversial dialogue. From the director of Love Exposure and Cold Fish, this couldn’t be more different – but it’s an even more ambitious, unique, and admirable feat than those.
Maniac (Remake – 2012): the deranged and murderous owner of a mannequin shop crosses paths with an artist who understands his appreciation for the figures. Not for the faint hearted, this is packed with violence and gore; in all of the graphic scenes you keep thinking ‘they’ll cut away from it now… Now… NOW?!?!’. These gut-wrenching effects are paired with a deranged and explicit sound design, which makes this very unnerving and creepy to watch. Elijah Wood is sufficiently creepy-looking and charming – although he doesn’t get the same chance to push his range as this version is mostly shot from his point of view (POV). Because of the POV shooting, brutal sound effects and explicit gore you feel more like a participant than an observer, which works disturbingly well in the voyeuristic and chase sequences. The original Maniac is great, and still holds up today, but times have changed and this one ups the ante in every aspect, becoming more shocking by comparison, whilst retaining a certain retro ‘video nasty’ / ‘classic exploitation‘ vibe (aided by plenty homages and similarities to the original, and an exquisite post-Drive 1980s synth soundtrack.) On a scale of ‘one to creepy’ this is CREEPY AS FUCK and – like the original – although this is 100% unrecommendable, the Maniac remake is an exploitation and slasher masterpiece.