The Hateful Eight


Viewed – 07 May 2016  Blu-ray

(updated: 06/08/2016) I approached this with expectations seriously dialled back after hearing a few mixed and negative reactions to Quentin Tarantino’s eighth directorial effort.  Following up arguably one of his best movies, Django Unchained was no easy prospect but as expected with a director that single-handily seemed to shake up a tired industry in the 90s with his brand of pop-culture referencing, sharply written scripts, this doesn’t even try.  Instead what we get is a slow burning but thoroughly gripping character-piece that harks back to Tarantino’s bold, iconic début Reservoir Dogs more than anything else he’s made.

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Kurt Russell is a bounty hunter transporting a woman accused of murder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) via stage coach to Red Rock, when he comes across fellow Bounty Hunter and former Major Samuel L. Jackson who also needs to get to Red Rock to claim his own bounty.  Yet along the way a blizzard hits and the men are forced to hold up in a local tavern, where they come across several other colourful characters.  Like Tarantino at his best, the key to enjoying this is the snappy dialogue, the fleshed out characterisation and the tension that gradually builds.  Some have said this movie is slow, that nothing happens … and considering it’s on for over 160 minutes, I understand the restlessness, but awaiting a gunfight or some violence or a chase etc. is to miss the point – it’s not about action, the dialogue is the action and it’s about learning about all these characters, figuring out their motives and watching it all play out, not unlike a game of chess.  With this in mind, Tarantino is on solid form – his writing skills, if a tad self-indulgent throw in humour, red herrings and surprises and still has that edge that made his name.  On a pure dialogue-basis I’d even go as far to say it’s some of his best writing in years.

Hateful EightSamuel L. Jackson is the star here and does a stellar job and is ice-cool and decidedly him, no bad thing if like me you’re a fan.  It was also great to see Kurt Russell commanding and tough-talking, and a flamboyant Tim Roth was also a lot of fun.  There isn’t really a bad turn here, and even lesser characters like The Mexican stand out.  A turn of events in the final act was a tad hard to swallow however and the ending was a little over the top and perhaps overly brutal.  Yet that’s to be expected I guess, and along with Ennio Morricone’s classy score and simply gorgeous cinematography, obviously echoing the great westerns of yesteryear like Once Upon A Time In The West or The Good The Bad and the Ugly … this love letter to the genre, and to cinema itself just worked for me on many levels.

Verdict:  4 /5

Hail, Caesar


Viewed – 10 March 2016 Cinema

I have been an admirer of the work of sibling directors Joel & Ethan Coen for many years now and count movies like The Big Lebowski and Fargo amongst some of the best movies I’ve seen.  However sometimes these talented guys seem to stumble upon an idea that for one reason or another just doesn’t work – and I’m surprised to say, this is one such movie.

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The plot follows a day in the life of a movie studio exec (Josh Brolin), sometime in the early 1950s, where musicals and swords & sandals epics were all the rage.  It’s certainly a fascinating setting and one I was hoping would be a great backdrop to an intriguing kidnap storyline, at least that’s the idea the trailer gave me.  However following the mysterious abduction of their biggest star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), Brolin finds himself being forced to come up with a ransom whilst at the same time juggling a myriad of other issues at the studio.

Hail__Caesar__BrolinNow you see here lies the problem … there’s a lot of things going on here; Scarlett Johansson appears as a tough-talking pregnant starlet whose lack of a husband puts her image (and that of the studio) in question.  Also twin reporters turn up trying to dish the dirt on Baird Whitlock’s past and a dim-witted western star get’s the opportunity to do his first speaking part in a new movie. Oh and there’s some dancing sailors too, headed by Channing Tatum.  Yet despite these admittedly colourful characters, along with Clooney they’re written so one dimensional that it was really hard to care about any them.  Johansson, considering she’s one of the most bankable actresses around at the moment gets two redundant scenes, and Clooney’s plot is more perplexing and confusing than gripping.

The movie isn’t without it’s moments though. It looks fantastic (thanks to regular collaborator Roger Deakins) and behind the scenes segments of movies being made will always pull me in.  The dialogue at times is also pretty comical (a meeting with various representatives of different religious faiths to discuss a biblical epic is a stand out).  Yet the comedy isn’t strong enough to hide the fact the movie fails to go anywhere even remotely interesting and no attention to set design, costumes or musical numbers can make up for such a glaring flaw.

Verdict: 2 /5

White House Down


Viewed – 25 January 2014  Pay-per-view

Approaching this you get the feeling it’s going to immediately be what the latest Die Hard movie wasn’t … as in an actual Die Hard movie. Channing Tatum goes to the White House for an interview to become a Secret Service agent, bringing his plucky daughter along because she’s up on her politics and kinda has a thing for current President Jamie Foxx.  Yet whilst at the big white building, a group of terrorists attack and as you can imagine, Tatum is the only man who might be able to get the President out alive.

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Not a new idea by a long shot, but given a certain panache by director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow).  So expect gunfights, one-liners, a smattering of humour and plenty of things that go boom.  What I wasn’t expecting however was the fun partnership between Tatum and Foxx (making for one of the cooler Presidents in Hollywood history) and an overdose of rather bad CGI (the helicopters flying through the city looked awful).  Emmerich is known for having no subtlety, and believability pretty much goes out of the window in the second half of the movie, not helped by an increasingly annoying Joey King playing Tatum’s daughter (was she the best we could have got for a fairly important role?) and a barrel load of cheese towards the end.  Tatum looked the part (complete with white vest) but lacked a certain level of charisma I’d say.  James Woods also pops up and is very good, as is Maggie Gyllenhaal even if she gets very little to do.  Oh and every twist is so blatantly sign posted, I gave up expecting surprises and just enjoyed the ride.

This was a lot of fun, but could have been a classic if Emmerich had just applied the breaks (and his brain) for once.

Verdict:  3 /5

G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra


Viewed – 22 Jan 2010  Blu-ray

Over here in the UK, I don’t think the G.I. Joe toys really caught on as well as in the states.  Re-branded Action Force, I was a big fan of them and the subsequent cartoon TV series as a kid.  Yet that seems a long time ago now, and their nostalgia value is clouded at best.  So here we have, much belated I might add, the big budget movie adaptation.  Best approached as a sort of X-Men meets Mission Impossible, this follows a young soldier named Duke (Channing Tatum) who along with his best bud Ripcord (a for once, not annoying Marlon Wayans) becomes embroiled in the search for a missing, high tech warhead after a team of highly advanced super-solders steal it during a routine escort mission.  Soon our naive solder, is drafted into the ranks of a secret government squad known as G.I. Joe; the only guys with the skills, training and the technology to take on this new threat.

Basically, like any movie with aspirations of becoming a franchise, this is mostly an origins story with a few flash backs thrown in for key characters, helping to flesh out the band of likable, colourful characters.  Christopher Eccleston heads up the bad guys as a megalomania arms-dealer, aided by a sultry, dark-haired Sienna Miller and a band of souped up grunts, with the odd white ninja thrown in for good measure.  On the side of the Joe’s we have a very sexy Rachel Nichols and kung-fu genius for hire Ray Park, lead by Dennis Quaid which made me wonder what the hell this once big name actor has been doing for god knows how many years.  Directed by The Mummy’s Stephen Summers, this is a fast, fun and exciting movie, with some great set-pieces (especially the Paris-set chase) and impressive special effects.  At times the story seems a little confusing and I did lose my way at times, but then again, this one was so packed with action, it was hard to ponder the finer points of the plot.  So again, another 2009 summer event movie that knocks Transformers 2 out of the water, and hopefully a sequel is already in the pipeline!

Verdict:  4 /5