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

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Donnie Brasco


Viewed – 19 April 2015  Netflix

Sometimes there is a reason you don’t get around to watching a particular movie.  Maybe it’s just passed you by, other movies have caught your interest more … or something is trying to tell you, it’s not really as good as you’ve heard.  This is one such movie.

Donnie-Brasco

Johnny Depp plays undercover FBI agent Donnie Brasco who gets embroiled in the goings on of a gang in New York and gets mentored by aging mobster Lefty (Al Pacino).  Based in a true story this is of course an intriguing set up and makes for at first engrossing viewing.  Pacino this time around isn’t playing the boss, the main guy, but more an always overlooked and fairly disgruntled ‘hood with one eye on a boat trip out of town, and another on the boss’s job.  It’s definitely an interesting change of pace for the usually loud and brash actor.  Depp is the confident, slightly cock-sure guy who thinks he’s got it all under control, as his family life begins to fall apart and he gets pulled further and further into the underworld.  Michael Madsen is on hand as the guy everyone fears and looks up to.

Depp & Pacino’s friendship holds this together well, but isn’t the most convincing, as Lefty seems to take much of Donnie at face value despite many moments that should have lead him to question the guy’s identity.  There is however plenty of tension as Donnie juggles his family life with that of the mob and tries to keep one step ahead of everyone else as the FBI increasingly pressure him for results.

The biggest issue is the supporting cast.  The surrounding actors are plucked from the poor-man’s mob actor barrel, lacking much of the menace or presence of a Joe Pesci or Harvey Keitel.  British director Mike Newell goes for a realistic style and avoids much of the grandeur or energy of other great mob movies like Goodfellas. With only smattering of violence and a script that often felt like it was satirizing the world it was depicting (how many times do we hear ‘forget about it’ ?), something about this just never came to life.  Add an ending that seriously lacked the big pay-off I’d been lead to believe was coming … and I came away rather disappointed.

Verdict:  2.5 /5

Reservoir Dogs


Viewed – 07 Mar 2009  Blu-ray

Limited Collector’s Edition

You have to admit, thats a killer title.  There’s plenty of urban legends about how it came about, but for now lets just basque in what this film did for cinema in the early nineties – turning a tired crime genre on its head and introduced us to snappy dialogue, cool black suited gangsters and a new indie wonder kid by the name of Quentin Tarantino, who even today still makes a big impact with every new film he comes up with, regardless if like me you feel he hasn’t hit gold since Pulp Fiction, this film’s grand follow up, that cemented him as a real talent.

Four crooks sit in a coffee shop discussing everything from the real meaning of Like A Virgin to why Mr Pink (Steve Buscemi) wont tip waitresses.  This plays out minutes before a diamond heist that we never see and goes terribly wrong, and the surviving crooks (Mr White – Harvey Keitel, a bloody and wounded Mr Orange – Tim Roth, Mr Pink (Steve Buscemi) and the psychotic Mr Blonde – Michael Madsen) all try and figure out what went wrong.  A very simple premise is given much credence by a narrative that jumps all over the place very much like Pulp did but in a slightly more explained way (mostly in flashbacks as the protagonists discuss events), and with most of the film set in an abandoned warehouse – this could so easily have been boring – but in Tarantino’s hands its riveting.  Mostly because the cast is brilliantly put together.  Roth over-acts, granted but makes the opening ten minutes kick ass.  Then of course we have Madsen in a scene that has become something of cinematic legend (the ear cutting played out perversely to Steeler’s Wheel’s ‘Stuck In The Middle’).

For a debut film from a new director, this is exceptional work, and as a crime movie in its own right, it is clever and different enough to warrant repeated viewings.  Some may dislike the simplicity, but I say look beyond what you have been accustomed to and enjoy it for what it is, one of the most ballsy crime movies ever made.

This collector’s edition, housed wonderfully in a mock up petrol can, has a very nice (but not astonishing) picture and the sound in both DTS Master Audio and Dolby Digital EX has plenty of wallop, especially when the excellent soundtrack kicks in.  Most impressive though is the wealth of extras, including a round-the-table commentary, behind the scenes footage, interviews, character profiles of the Reservoir Dogs, a pop-up trivia track and plenty more.  A brilliant package for fans and newcomers alike.

Verdict:  4 /5