Review: Bone Tomahawk

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DIR/WRI: S. Craig Zahler • PRO: Jack Heller, Dallas Sonnier • DOP: Benji Bakshi • ED: Greg D’Auria, Fred Raskin • DES: Freddy Waff • MUS: Jeff Herriott, S. Craig Zahler • CAST: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins

Somewhere in between The Searchers and Cannibal Holocaust lies the brutal, genre-dissolving Bone Tomahawk, an audacious directorial debut from S. Craig Zahler. Bone Tomahawk doesn’t politely invite you back to the old west, it grabs you by the jugular and forces you. Although the film does contain elements of the horror genre, it still remains a true western and abides by western conventions. It’s a throwback to cowboys and indians, but without the social commentary or political correctness. The film is strictly aesthetic, strictly primal and strictly instinctual, and without a cloak of PC comfort, we the audience are left vulnerable. We’re not gonna be treated as docile, we’re gonna be tested.

Giving his mouth some T.O. after the chamber piece gab of The Hateful Eight, Kurt Russell ventures back west, this time as Sheriff Franklin Hunt of the small town of Bright Hope. That’s cheap, as there is nothing brightful nor hopeful in this nihilistic west. The film opens with a rusty throat cut as Buddy (Sid Haig) and Purvis (David Arquette), two vagrants with no elegance, who are making off with loot after brutally murdering some travellers. They get lost and wander into no man’s land and discover they are walking on an Indian burial ground. Purvis escapes and makes his way to Bright Hope. Buddy, not so lucky.

Bright Hope appears to be a nice, quiet, little town, similar to those introduced by a Rod Serling monologue before things get weird before the tumbleweeds pick up momentum. In Bright Hope, the tumbleweeds gain momentum when backup deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins) sees the drifter, Purvis, burying something. Suspicion entails, Purvis is shot and arrested, everything seems right with the universe again. Bedridden during all the evening’s excitement is Arthur O’Dwyer, whose wife Samantha (Lili Simmons) nurses Purvis at the jailhouse. The next morning they’re gone. The wife, the drifter, a deputy, some horses, even the poor black stable boy gets gutted.

Thus unfolds the John Ford Searcheresque ride out to rescue the lives or bodies of their friends and loved ones. Saddling up are the solemn Sheriff Hunt, old-timer Chicory, crippled husband Arthur and fancy-pants gunslinger Brooder (Matthew Fox). Their local token Native American gives a stern word of warning before they ride out, claiming that the perps are a specific demented breed of Indian, who feed on their own mothers. Cheers for the confidence boost there Chief.

Zahler, who has four novels under his belt, delivers an excellent script. You can literally tick off the list of necessities that’s taught in screenwriting classes out of this movie.

In a screenplay, above all, conflict must be constant and it always bubbles to the surface throughout Bone Tomahawk as these four men with different worldviews constantly clash and argue. Whether it’s about marriage, murder or morals, there’s always an aura of tension. It also helps when we’re being thrown great lines like “smart men don’t get married” and “Saucy wouldn’t let no greaser get on top of her”. The film can be surprisingly tender at times too, but never comes close to being smarmy. It rolls on subtle, understated, until the final reel when all hell breaks out.

Brooder is the hot head of the four, and appears to be the most untrustworthy. He wears all white, rides a white horse and flaunts a fancy German telescope. He’s a dandy. In a generic movie he’d get his comeuppance for his bigotry and immorals. However, Zahler understand that this is too easy an archetype to simply chuck at the audience. Never judge a book by its cover rings true as the character of Brooder expands.  

On the journey, Zahler keeps the audience in western mode. That is until we reach “Injun” territory and we are now under the wing of a madman. A short battle ensues before our protagonists are captured and imprisoned in a cave with Samantha O’Dwyer and poor deputy Nick (Evan Jonigkeit). Oh Jesus, poor deputy Nick! Zahler has now flung us into horror territory. Duke, pack your winchester and ride off into the sunset because you’re not wanna hang around to see this….

Before seeing Bone Tomahawk I vaguely remember reading a line or two about its brutal and shocking violence, but the perverted slasher aficionado in me was all too nonchalant to pay any attention. There is a scene in that cave that will have jaws smacking floors in unison. The pure primal terror of the violence raises the stakes through the roof and we begin to empathise for the protagonists on a whole new level. This is “on edge of your seat” cinema right here and the faint hearted might wanna check out Deadpool or Triple 9 instead. Right after the camera cuts away from the entrails, there’s a close-up of Kurt Russell’s face and his expression evokes an overwhelming sense of hopelessness that leaves the audience with the completely shattered.

I can’t remember the last time a moment of such explicit violence had such an impact on a cinema audience. The image stuck in my head for days. I’ve noticed too, that although critics have warned readers about the violence, they haven’t condemned it. This comes down to the fact that one; the violence is done extremely well in terms of aesthetic and realism, and two ; Zahler’s movie doesn’t rely on the graphic violence, but rather builds up to the bloodshed by delivering us eclectic characters that we grow to care about. Whether it’s Russell’s modest mannerisms, Jenkin’s comic timing (channeling Walter Brennan) or Fox’s vanity, we slowly begin to gravitate towards them. So when the slicing and dicing starts we’re putty in Zahler’s hands.

This film will no doubt succeed in terms of cult status. It will more than likely be out of cinemas as soon as it hits, possibly build up a reputation through word of mouth that might develop during DVD  or VOD release. However, if you’re a fan of genre cinema or in the mood for something different then try catch it in cinemas. There’ll be few visceral and awe moments like it on the big screen this year. There has been a small resurgence of westerns over the past few years – Django Unchained, Hateful Eight, Slow West, The Salvation – but it will take a lot more than that to make the genre really viable again in today’s market. But if we get any westerns with half the originality and audacity that Bone Tomahawk has, I’ll lace up my boots and saddle up right now.

Cormac O’Meara

18 (See IFCO for details)

132 minutes

Bone Tomahawk is released 19th February 2016

 

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Review: The Hateful Eight

hateful 8 sam jackson final

DIR: Quentin Tarantino • WRI: Quentin Tarantino • PRO: Richard N. Gladstein, Shannon McIntosh, Stacey Sher • DOP: Robert Richardson • ED: Fred Raskin • DES: Yohei Taneda • MUS: Ennio Morricone • CAST: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Channing Tatum, Bruce Dern, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Quentin Tarantino hates you. He really hates your guts. His hatred for humanity is all too clear from this hateful film The Hateful Eight, coincidentally his eighth feature film and by far his worst. He feels no shame for this utterly brazen and immense hatred. He is proud of it. This film is his best expression of contempt for his audience and indeed life itself.

Do you agree with Danny Boyle’s rule-of-thumb that there’s rarely a good reason for a film to be longer than two hours? Quentin Tarantino loathes you. He will punish you with a pace slower than the melting of glaciers for more than two and a half hours for a story easily told in half the time. He will draw scenes out as long as they can be with over-written repetitive dialogue bereft of any charm it had in his other films.

Do you love the characters he and his collaborators have brought to life on-screen before? Tarantino’s had enough of that for now. The clue is in the title. Every character in The Hateful Eight is hateful in a literal sense, so despicable that there is no reason to be invested in what happens to any of them. When a mystery unfolds surrounding the poisoning of coffee, that could still have been an interesting dynamic to see play out, had it not taken almost two hours of tedium for the film to reach that point.

Do you invest in his reputation for writing strong female characters? Among the male-dominated cast of characters, the outlaw Daisy Domergue has tenacity and roughness in the hopes that these superficial traits hide that she is a damsel-in-distress and a plot device. She is also loathsome in every way, giving you no reason to wish her success in overcoming the captors bringing her to justice. At the same time however, you have no reason to enjoy the really distasteful and repeated violence inflicted on her.

Do you appreciate his attempts at writing strong characters for people of colour? He wants you to shove it. Sit back and watch Demián Bichir wasted on a stereotype of Mexicans so egregious, that even Robert Rodriguez would surely reprimand him and that’d be coming from a director who once cast Willem Dafoe in brown-face. Hear so much about the vivacious shack-owner Minnie and then discover an outdated black mammy caricature when she shows up. Assume Samuel L Jackson’s character is an upright bad-ass who walks the path of the righteous man, as it were. Turns out he’s a lying scoundrel who rapes people as punishment.

Oh yes. In what has to be one of the film’s most bizarrely misjudged scenes, of which there are far too many to choose from, he recounts to the father of a man he murdered that he had forced the man to fellate him. This man was a racist confederate so that might make one less inclined to care about his well-being. If, however, Samuel L Jackson’s character reveals that he considers rape a fitting punishment, hilarious in its symbolism, one also cares significantly less about his. As you should any character who considers rape appropriate in any circumstance ever.

But perhaps you like it when Tarantino pushes limits? Well just because a film is “challenging” does not make it good and the circular logic that anyone who doesn’t enjoy a film like this is either a baby or a prude is such a lazy strawman defence. Tarantino still hates you though and he seems intent on making you regret what you wish for. It’s not just wounds and severed limbs that gush with obscene amounts of blood; poisoned characters vomit blood in such ludicrous quantities that it passes beyond the cartoonish fun of his previous films and just becomes obnoxious.

Did you like how brilliantly Pulp Fiction played around with chronological order? Tarantino hates that you did, so very much and this time around, he is going to have a clumsy, snail-paced flashback entitled “Earlier that morning…” more than two hours into this bloated mess.

Do you care about film in general, as a medium for visual storytelling? Tarantino despises you. This brings us to the moment where he atrociously fails as a filmmaker. There are several scenes of characters talking about each other’s back-stories. We do not see these past exploits; we see characters sitting in a coach or a shack talking about these past exploits even when they sound like more interesting stories to see than the film we got. Characters are not revealed through action but through other characters talking about them. This is not how film as a narrative medium works and it is astonishing that a seasoned filmmaker with Oscars and a Palme D’Or needs this explained to him.

The truly unforgivable lapse in competency comes long after the film’s half-way point when we hear a narrator’s voice that had not been introduced previously, explain additional details about what different characters are doing. Rather than conveying that information visually. LIKE A FILM. Who is the narrator? Quentin Tarantino himself, of course. This is basically a filmmaker of iconic status, openly admitting that he has failed as a filmmaker. The film got to the point where his footage was no longer good enough and he personally stepped in to fill in the gaps. That this voice-over is established so late in the film is what makes the crutch so glaringly obvious.

This, along with so many other baffling decisions, amount to such an abject failure in basic, fundamental, visual storytelling that it could only have been deliberate. It is as if Tarantino is intentionally, purposefully trolling the world by setting out to frustrate audiences as much as possible. And the only defence flimsier than “you just didn’t like it because it was challenging” is “I don’t make films for audiences; I make films I want to see”. This is a new low for him and you can absolutely afford to skip it.

Jonathan Victory

18
167 minutes (See IFCO for details)

The Hateful Eight is released 8th January 2016

The Hateful Eight – Official Website

 

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The Art of Steal

The-Art-of-the-Steal

DIR: Jonathan Sobol • WRI: Jonathan Sobol • PRO: Nicholas Tabarrok  DOP: Adam Swica  DES: Matthew Davies • CAST: Kurt Russell, Jay Baruchel, Matt Dillon, Katheryn Winnick, Kenneth Welsh, Terence Stamp, Chris Diamantopoulos

Since taking on the role of Stuntman Mike in Quentin Tarantino’s contribution to 2007’s Grindhouse, Kurt Russell has been largely absent from the silver screen. He did make an appearance in stepdaughter Kate Hudson’s short drama Cutlass later that year, and also co-starred in the little-seen sports film Touchback, but by and large, the immensely popular Tombstone actor has been keeping a low profile.

The box-office failure of Grindhouse – the underwhelming ticket sales in the US ensured that Death Proof was released a stand-alone film on these shores – may have played its part in this regard, although he did turn down an opportunity to work with Tango & Cash cohort Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables.

However, it was only a matter before the Massachusetts native stepped back into the breach, and having first acted in a 1962 episode of Dennis the Menace, The Art of the Steal ensures that his extraordinary career has surpassed the 50 year mark.

Directed by Canadian helmer Jonathan Sobol – whose only previous feature-length effort was A Beginner’s Guide to Endings The Art of the Steal had earlier operated under the titles of The Black Marks and The Fix. Like many films in the genre, Sobol’s sophomore film kicks-off with a ‘heist gone wrong’, as well as the inevitable double-crossing for personal and/or financial gain.

Owing to his prowess on his prized motorbike, Russell’s Crunch Calhoun is the ‘wheel man’ on a crack team that includes his half-brother Nicky (Matt Dillon), master forger Guy de Cornet (Chris Diamantopulous) and veteran colleague ‘Uncle Paddy’ (Kenneth Welsh).

When a job in Warsaw turns sour, Dillon’s ‘Ideas Man’ is subsequently arrested, but following evidence he supplies to the authorities, Crunch finds himself on the receiving end of a seven-year sentence in a Wronki prison.

After gaining early release for good behaviour, Crunch becomes a third-rate motorcycle daredevil, with the help of his new girlfriend (Katheryn Winnick) and willing apprentice (Jay Baruchel), but is lured back into the game by his brother’s disgruntled former partner.

This forced him to, reluctantly, team up with Nicky once again, but the promise of a massive pay day for the capture of Gutenberg’s Gospel of James helps to aid their reconciliation. The appearance on the scene of a determined Interpol Agent and his informant sidekick (Terence Stamp) means that the reformed team need to be on their toes at all times, and always one step ahead.

With an impressive cast, and a director familiar with the surroundings of Quebec City and Niagara Falls, The Art of the Steal has the makings of a bonafide sleeper hit. Unfortunately, the end product is far too derivative, presenting the audience with scenarios and situations that have been explored in the past in a much more interesting fashion.

There is some pleasure to be had in the central performances, and there is plenty of spark between Russell and Dillon, who have always had the ability to elevate the most mundane of material to a greater level. Judd Apatow regular Baruchel does provide comic relief (especially in one moment that makes reference to Peter Weir’s Witness), and Stamp makes the most of relatively limited screentime.

Other members of the ensemble never quite register, however, with Winnick’s love interest marginalised for much of the action, while Welsh’s Irish accent seems to take a journey across several continents throughout the course of the drama.

In many ways, had Sobol opted to focus more on Crunch’s daredevil escapades (either partly or completely), this may well have been a more worthwhile exercise. As it is, The Art of the Steal is, at best, disposable fare, which comes complete with the standard final act plot twist/reveal.

With films like Fast & Furious 7, Tarantino’s upcoming The Hateful Eight, Bone Tomahawk and Road to Save Nome in the pipeline, as well as a possible Stargate sequel, Russell will continue to be a fixture in cinemas across the nation, and although the latest entry in his expansive body of work is a long way off being his best, his cult status remains very much intact.

 Daire Walsh

 

15A (See IFCO for details)
90 mins

Art of the Steal is released on 20th June 2014

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