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.
Kill Bill Vol 2: (Blu Ray) retribution continues at a slower pace as the back story is given more attention. This installment starts off as it means to continue, totally rip-off retro: effects, music, voiceovers, homage, etc. The story’s very strong until the last 45 minutes when it grinds to a halt, feeling drawn out with heavy conversation and that stupid truth serum. I’m not a huge fan of Tarantino’s ‘natural dialogue’. It’s not Kevin Smith bad but still quite annoying, and it really bogs down the end of Vol 2… On the upside there’s still some great cinema to be had; parts like the blacked out buried alive scene utilising big sounds to strike fear in to you are movie gold. The acting is top notch again, from Uma through to the let-himself-go Bud, sharp-as-ever Bill and the (still) foxy Elle Driver – it helps that all characters get good screen time to develop. The Blu Ray is absolutely stunning; close-up skin, face, hair and clothing detail will blow you away – even in the intentionally grainy Pai Mei scenes. The sound’s also fantastic, again making it worth the upgrade. It’s definitely the weaker stand-alone film, but when viewed back to back with Vol 1 it’s a great conclusion to one of the most epic revenge tales committed to celluloid!
Kill Bill Vol 1: (Blu Ray) a former assassin and her nearest & dearest are murdered; she survives and sets out for revenge – big time. Although his style’s not for everyone this Tarantino flick works the audience like no other. It has style in excess as it flips between live action and anime, the past and present, colour and B&W, tranquility and hyper violence… There’s also a load of retro & chic elements such as the unnecessary censorship of The Bride’s name, yellow jumpsuits, and who doesn’t wiggle their big toe when Uma wills herself on? With all the style, story, great soundtrack and violence it’s easy to overlook Uma’s talent, covering everything between ‘broken woman’ to ‘superwoman’ without raising a single doubt. It’s very heavy on the homage, but doesn’t take itself seriously – what with the limbs flying everywhere as the bride breakdances with a sword in hand! The trademark unnecessarily long dialogue is toned down a bit and the middle part with Hattori Hanzo feels a tad stretched. The music builds up so much tension before the fight scenes and technically the film’s outstanding: the swooping single shot between the main room and toilets (twice!) in the House of Blue Leaves seems effortless. The consistently vibrant picture and near-flawless audio on this Blu Ray make it 100% worth the upgrade. If a gravity-defying swordswoman hacking and shooting her way through dozens of bodies is your thing, then look no further than this. Perhaps one of the best action films, ever.
Reservoir Dogs: (Blu Ray) Follows a bunch of – not so – professional criminals after a botched heist – Tarrantino’s debut. Like his later movies this one is stuffed with obscure music, bloody violence, fragmented storytelling, and dangerously high levels of pop-culture. Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi lead the cast for me, but you can’t really fault anyone’s performance. It’s stylish, some of the longer shots are frighteningly smooth & effective and there’s cool ideas peppered throughout; standout being the anecdote about the drug deal being told in various situations. The realistic and brutal violence will shock some, and even for the start of his career the homage isn’t subtle. Like his other early works it’s also questionably racist – strange gamble for an up-and-coming director. The picture’s alright in parts but the sound’s quite rubbish, not worth the BD upgrade. Although the story and characters aren’t groundbreaking, you can’t deny how original the delivery and presentation are. Cult classic, and rightly so.