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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Review: Big Game

big-game-trailer

DIR/WRI: Jalmari Helander • PRO: Will Clarke, Petri Jokiranta, Andy Mayson, Jens Meurer •DOP: Mika Orasmaa • ED: Iikka Hesse • MUS: Juri Seppä, Miska Seppä • DES: Christian Eisele • CAST: Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Jim Broadbent, Mehmet Kurtulus, Ray Stevenson, Felicity Huffman

You can forgive a film of a lot of things if it’s on the whole entertaining. Big Game will inevitably be uttered in the same breath as Snakes on a Plane given its claim to some key components: Samuel L Jackson, an airplane, and cheesy dialogue. Above everything else, however, the film certainly entertains.

It’s an intriguing premise: a Finnish-American co-production, starring Jackson as an unpopular American president who finds himself being hunted in a remote Finnish forest after Air Force One is shot down, with only a young Finnish boy, Oskari (Onni Tommila), to protect him. Oskari is on a rite-of-passage hunting expedition, the outcome of which will gain him his idolised father’s approval. Oskari is not quite as skilled a hunter, but the sudden appearance of the American president, and a band of violent marauders in pursuit of him, presents Oskari with an opportunity.

The marketing material puts Jackson as a typical action figure, but the film presents otherwise. He’s an incompetent president, down in the polls, and is initially useless and bumbling when his forest ordeal begins. It’s an unusual role for Jackson but it just about works. Oskari, his valiant yet often equally incompetent protector, is the true hero of the film. Tommila is constantly engaging, and Oskari’s hunting quest – be it for big game or fatherly approval – becomes the core of the narrative.

There are some well-worn tropes here: air disaster, CIA Situation Room, a chase across unforgiving terrain. Big Game is, on one hand, playing up the clichés, while at the same time happily repeating them. It knows what it is, and it delivers on its promise, with some horrendous dialogue thrown in. There’s not enough of the bad for it to qualify for ‘so bad it’s good’ territory but it does toe the line. The ‘terrorists’ in pursuit of the President are said to be psychopaths with ‘no ideology’, conveniently allowing this film to have no political undertones whatsoever. But it’s an entertaining action film, with some well-timed humour, and is worth a watch for that alone.

 

Cathy Butler

12A (See IFCO for details)

90 minutes
Big Game is released 8th May 2015

 

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Cinema Review: Oldboy

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DIR: Spike Lee • WRI: Mark Protosevich • PRO: Doug Davison, Roy Lee, Spike Lee • DOP: Sean Bobbitt • ED: Barry Alexander Brown • DES: Sharon Seymour • MUS: Roque Baños • CAST: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley

 

On paper, everything about this remake of Park Chan-wook’s 2003 cult action thriller seems promising: one of the best films of the past ten years as source material, an ‘auteur’ director in Spike Lee, Josh Brolin starring with the up-and-coming Elizabeth Olsen and the recently excellent Sharlto Copley.

 

The plot is hard to fault, too. Simple in its synopsis but complex in its narrative, Oldboy tells the story of Joe Doucett (Brolin), who is kidnapped and held prisoner with no explanation and with no idea who might want to hold him captive. After 20 years in captivity, Joe is released with a phone and a wallet full of money. With no answers and many questions, he sets out to seek vengence on the stranger who stole 20 years of his life.

 

All good omens that this particular Hollywood remake of a highly respected piece of Korean filmmaking could be the exception to the recent rule of lazily recycling much loved non-English language genre films. With a chequered history in this regard, perhaps Hollywood was learning to give its source material the respect it deserves, letting the spirit of the original film shine through while making the story relevant to a new audience?

 

But alas, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Oldboy has been transformed from an imaginative, gripping and (crucially) original action thriller into a by-the-numbers revenge thriller.

 

Lee takes Park’s complex protagonist and changes him into the standard ‘bad man who learns the error of his ways and vows to reform himself’, explicitly showing the audience in the first act that Joe is a bad husband, an even worse father, a cocksure businessman and a terrible drunk. The original left all this to be implied.

 

See also the signature action set piece, in which the protagonist battles a posse of assorted ne’er-do-wells with a hammer. In Park’s version, this is simply thrilling in its execution, shot (imaginatively) as a cross-section of the building. In Lee’s, it’s shot in a similar way, showing his obvious respect for what is an impressively-constructed long shot. But the scene is let down by the fight’s choreography, which looks more like a dance with its over-exaggerated falls and dives rather than anything approaching peril.

 

The plot has been given the Hollywood treatment, too.  In Park’s Oldboy, the mystery surrounding the main character’s imprisonment and sudden release only deepens as the film progresses, further drawing you in. But Lee unleashes major plot revelations much sooner than Park, leaving precious little mystery in the film’s final third. Where the original perfectly straddled the grey in-between, Lee looks to attain a perfect symmetry in the unfolding storyline between Brolin’s Joe and his mysterious captor. The director seems to have little trust in his audience, pointing out every little plot nuance, just in case we missed it.

 

It becomes increasingly clear that Spike Lee is merely a gun for hire on this project, rather than the ‘auteur’ of his earlier career. A fact confirmed when Lee neuters the original’s brave ending.

 

Most of the supporting cast do an admirable job with some below-par scripting, with special mention for Copley who is unrecognisable here, playing the polar opposite of his deadly mercenary in Elysium. Brolin works tirelessly trying to combine the physically demanding action set pieces with the deep inner turmoil being felt by Joe but, in the end, neither of these entirely convince.

 

There are things to be admired, though. The film looks great. Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography combined with the set design give Joe’s imprisonment a washed-out dullness, juxtaposed nicely with the outside world’s vibrancy.

 

Measured against Park’s original, Lee’s Oldboy is dumbed-down and hamfisted (and that’s before mentioning the exaggerated product placement). While the film shows the occasional flash of promise, Lee would have done better to fully embrace the brilliance of the original, rather than using it merely as a blueprint.

Chris Lavery

18 (See IFCO for details)

104  mins

Oldboy is released on 6th December 2013

Oldboy  – Official Website

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Lakeview Terrace

Lake View Terrace
Lake View Terrace

DIR: Neil LaBute • WRI: David Loughery, Howard Korder• PRO: James Lassiter • DOP: Rogier Stoffers • ED: Joel Plotch • DES: Bruton Jones • CAST: Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington, Jay Hernandez

In the hands of a director such as Todd Field – the man behind the terrific domestic dramas In the Bedroom and Little ChildrenLakeview Terrace could have evolved into a moving, provocative examination of racism and prejudice within the hybrid of cultures and lifestyles that is contemporary Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the project landed into the hands of Neil LaBute who – after his highly unsuccessful ‘rethinking’ of horror classic The Wicker Man – has helped to shape the project into a largely entertaining B movie.

Newlyweds Chris and Lisa Mattson (Wilson and Washington, respectively) arrive at their newly purchased abode only to be greeted by Abel Turner (Jackson): the neighbour from hell, who happens to also be a cop. Turner takes a natural disliking to the Mattson’s due to his own prejudices with race and society and the couple’s interracial relationship. With the law on his side, Turner shows his prejudices through a series of attacks on the couple’s home, which become increasingly volatile until he ultimately loses control.

Those hoping for an insightful glimpse into the interracial society that has evolved within the western world will be left unsatisfied, as LaBute’s film shares a stronger resemblance with monster movies such as Godzilla than challenging dramas like Crash; the implicated themes of race, masculinity and the development of an intercultural society are left unexamined to allow the film to deliver its clichéd thrills. And there are a handful of genuinely thrilling moments (particularly when Turner is unleashed into the public sphere such as the Mattson’s housewarming, a co-worker’s stag party, etc.) and these are helped by a highly capable cast, but then undermined by the unnecessarily melodramatic nature of the music, the dialogue and the camerawork, which lends the movie an unintentionally camp and comedic nature.

Anyone satisfied with a clichéd fright or anyone interested will find Lakeview Terrace a compelling ride, but those looking for something more should be advised to avoid.

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