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.
Grindhouse: Death Proof. A washed up stuntman stalks and hunts sexy wimin’ in his ‘death proof’ stunt car. Part of the ‘Grindhouse’ double feature; this is given the ‘aged movie reel’ treatment – with tons of deliberately rough editing, cutting, lo-fi mono audio, scratched film, bad ADR, black/white… to make it feel like you’re watching a 70s film. It gets confusing however when people have mobile phones, and talk about CGI and Red Bull… Also, for whatever reason, this isn’t carried on through the second half of the film – making it seem even more gimmicky than it first appears. It’s ridiculously sweary – even by Tarantino standards – and boasts more leg and bum shots than a Michael Bay outing. The pacing is all over the shop – waiting 50 mins to first Final Destination style deaths, and spending most of the runtime listening to women gossiping and referencing niche pop culture in various cars and bars. For the most part, it’s not really gripping, but the action finale saves the day as stuntwoman Zoe Bell perilously navigates the bonnet of a speeding muscle car with no tricks. Despite only being in a handful of scenes Kurt Russel steals the show as an old-skool senseless maniac. Although Death Proof is a bit of a mess it remains watchable because of Tarantino’s quirks, dialogue, and the fact that you’re never really sure what’s coming up next. Definitely not his finest hour.
Django Unchained: a German bounty hunter frees a slave, then partners up with him to make some cash and rescue his girl from a flamboyant plantation owner. As expected, Waltz absolutely steals the show with what’s essentially a re-write/reprise of his intelligent, oddly-humorous ‘Jew-hunter‘. Everyone else turns up and does their thing entertainingly enough. While the film pokes a lot of fun at the stupidity of racism (KKK mask scene & Sam Jacksons rant about Foxx sleeping in the house), for me the ‘N-Bomb’ is dropped far, far too often: which may have been accurate of the period, but it’s such a loaded word that drags the tone down – taking it way beyond any ‘light-hearted’ Blazing Saddles similarities. Clocking in at 2hr 45, it’s also far, far too drawn out, for such a simple revenge tale, especially once Dicaprio pops up: some scenes seem to go on forever with rambling, empty, dialogue and plodding shot after shot. While they’re all quintessential Tarantino scenes, it also suffers from his trademark lack of self-censorship. Finally, although, stylistically, most scenes are undeniably QT -and this isn’t really his fault – his style’s been ripped off so many times (funky music, uber-gore and back-and-forth dialogue) that it no longer packs the punch it once did. As a stand-alone film, Django Unchained is a decent film dragged down by its ‘epic’ runtime and the difficult task of balancing racism and comedy. It’s only when you step back and hold it up against a film like Inglorious – equally long, but crammed with great, tense and cinematic moments – that you realise how ordinary Django Unchained is.
Quentin Tarantino Presents – My Name is Modesty: based on the Modesty Blaise comics, this film tells us her background during a casino heist. It’s an internationally confusing film; the DVD cover makes it look like an Asian gang-thriller, it appears to be shot in Eastern Europe, supposed to be set in Spain (or Morocco?), featuring Hong Kong, European and American leads. The script is pretty terrible, with amateur written all over it, and isn’t helped by several foreign actors having to speak varying degrees of English. About half way through it starts to dive in to the cheesiest, clichéd backstory in the history of B-Movies – how Modesty learned her skill set from a wondering academic that also happened to be well versed in kung-fu, archery, etc. Everything else reeks of cheese, right down to the “wave your hand over dead people’s faces to close their eyes” trick. The story judders along with not much happening until a single, pithy, action sequence at the end. The film was rushed due to a rights issue, but if this is the best a studio can do for an action-packed, saucy, successful female spy comic, they deserve to lose it and let someone else have a shot. At a meager 75 minutes, such a short movie has never felt this long – with terrible production, script and ropey acting, I’ve seen better TV pilots.
Note: the DVD does have several of long interviews with QT and the cast, and Modesty Blaise creator.
POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold: A documentary about the end-to-end process of product placement (co-promotions) in films; entirely funded from and advertised through said co-promotion. It’s an interesting topic for documentary, particularly for cineastes. The biggest pitfall is that this ends up (rightly so) having too much focus on promoting the brands that paid to be featured, and not enough real-world examples from directors, producers, writers or industry stories, scenes and techniques that would help the viewer spot when they’re being advertised too. There are a few moments where Spurlock brings you behind the scenes to see sponsors influence the film, and his creative process. There’s also a load of random agencies, lawyers, friends and ‘moguls’ getting free publicity/exposure too – which surely goes against the central idea? Bottom line; I wish the film had been bigger in scope and had attracted larger – more serious – sponsors, just to see the full wrath of contracts, obligations and the influence of cash. It’s a very interesting premise, with a couple of eye openers, but the potential’s not maximised enough to keep you interested for the full 90 minutes.
Inglourious Basterds: (Blu Ray) Not really much of a re-make after all. Straight off the bat the first 20 minutes are among the immense, intense and electric in memory. As the film continues there’s just so many great sections: Jews in hiding, the Jew Bear’s entrance, strudel meal, entire bar scene, cinema premier (Inc. Italian Accents). Cast-wise: Pitt looks ridiculous and uncomfortable, but is still very, very funny again; Stiglitz is great to watch, especially in the bar scene; Fassbender totally outdoes Mike Meyers, who plays a terrible British stereotype, and as for Cristoph Waltz, what can I say that has not already been said… It’s a bingo! He turns an already fantastic script in to comedy and tension of the highest level without even trying – 100% charisma!! The dialogue’s much more focused and natural than any of the previous Tarantino outings. I also applaud the use of foreign actors and dialogue, which most war films don’t usually have, Tarantino has masterfully cast some of the best European talent in a lot of the key roles – and although there are a lot of characters and story threads coming together it’s all managed quite well, with only a couple of minor lapses. The alternative history setting (& ending) is always a strange pill to swallow, but if you roll with it the film still works. The music chosen isn’t his finest to date. The Blu Ray Sound and picture are both fantastic, definitely reference material. While Tarantino may not be every critic’s cup of tea he keeps giving the public exactly what they want. Ballsy & enjoyable WWII action-romp.
Sukiyaki Western Django: Takashi Miike’s Japanese take on the spaghetti western & samurai films of yesteryear. Most confusingly all dialogue is English, but it still requires subs because the Japanese actors (naturally) struggle to deliver the Americanized lines – everyone’s acting totally suffers because of this huge distraction. All of the action is good to watch, from the quick draws through to Gatling Gun mayhem and the action-packed showdown is pretty immense. The gang costumes are flamboyant and seeing the red & white colours constantly jumping out is a real treat on the eyes. Miike does a fantastic job of keeping it stylish throughout, whilst minimising his trademark ‘weirdness’ – although the sheriff character was truly pants. You can’t help but think that if he focused on perfecting one or two films a year instead of 5-6 he’d be one of the best directors on the planet. Overall there’s no denying this is a bunch of tried themes, concepts and characters tied neatly together and packaged as homage. Still, this one’s worth a watch if you like foreign and offbeat movies.