How Great is The Hateful Eight?

Hateful Eight - poster

Quentin Tarantino has made three of the greatest films of the last 21 years.  Brilliant virtuosity propelled Inglourious Basterds, outright glee erupted from Django Unchained, and anchoring his entire oeuvre, Pulp Fiction is one of the most iconic films of all time, and a masterpiece.

Hateful Eight - text blockThe Hateful Eight is not in that class.  But it’s darn good, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Despite its nearly three hour span, I slipped from its grasp only once, and very briefly.  Some critics have likened the film to a bad play, but I didn’t get that feeling at all.  I can see where they are coming from, but this is not a Mamet picture.  Flashes of cinematic greatness dispel any idea that you’re watching a stage production.

Critics are sharply divided on this one, some giving a solid thumbs-down while others hail it as the best of the year.  Check out the Tomato page to see what I mean.   For me: I liked it a lot, but wished for the complexity of his better works.

A note on the presentation: The Hateful Eight features an overture and intermission if you see the 70mm presentation.  I was not so lucky.  It’s criminal that a movie which is supposed to include an intermission and overture is generally not being shown that way.  Thank you AMC, not.  I didn’t mind too much, though, as the story flows well without it.  8/10

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Tarantino’s Way with Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown - poster

As a big Tarantino fan, Jackie Brown was the odd one out, the one film in his oeuvre that I had never seen.  And it’s about what I expected and nothing more.

Which is a little bit of a disappointment.  Because when it comes to Quentin Tarantino, I’ve come to expect something more, an added dimension which will lift his pictures above and beyond.  I did not find that in Jackie Brown.

Now, it’s perfectly good entertainment; a linear crime story told with steady drama that doesn’t let up.  But that story is too simple for its 154-minute running time.  Tarantino did not try to ascend any summits in Jackie Brown; his flatland course is set and he stays on that course.  He does construct a life-or-death scenario which is very effective, and it’s good storytelling.  But nothing more.

Jackie Brown - text blockI’ve always given Tarantino credit: with the incredible success and groundbreaking nature of the masterpiece Pulp Fiction, many a lesser movie maker would have been tempted to recreate that winning formula, or worse, make an outright sequel.  I’m sure there was some pressure to capitalize on Pulp Fiction‘s success by essentially copying it.  But Tarantino wasn’t interested in doing Pulp Fiction part II.  And he realized that Pulp Fiction’s formula would not translate to any other film.  Nobody was every going to copy Pulp Fiction, including Tarantino himself.  So he followed it up with the very different Jackie Brown.  It’s one of his weaker pictures, but he did it his way.

Being the exceptional talent he is, Tarantino, taking his time, eventually made another truly great film, Inglourious Basterds, and followed that up with one more great, Django Unchained.  Two movies that are completely different from one-another and Pulp Fiction, and yet fully accomplished on all levels.  Did they reach the rarefied air of Pulp Fiction?  No, but that’s a near-impossibility for any filmmaker.

Jackie Brown will hold you engaged for its entire running time, which is no easy task.  But I wanted more.  6/10

Notes on Captain America: The Winter Soldier (3D)

It’s pretty simple: if you like these kind of movies, you will like this one.  If you are as bored with the latter-era comic-book superhero genre as I am, you won’t.  It’s not that I don’t like superhero-action movies, but I am finding most of these movies to be re-treads of one another.  And it doesn’t help when you know that no matter how bad things get, your hero and their core entourage will always survive.

Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans

Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans

Nonetheless, I liked Captain America: The Winter Soldier  — for about the first half.  I found it dramatic enough, and entertaining, and I particularly liked the women in it: Scarlett Johansson, Cobie Smulders, and Emily VanCamp.  But the second half degenerates into trite, formulaic action movie sequences.  The whole secret organization-within-a-secret organization idea is tired, and why do big action films so often feel that they need to lay forth some supposedly high-minded moralistic message?  Kenneth Turan of the L.A. Times:

For what is frustrating about this “Captain America” is that it’s saddled with the defects of its virtues. It’s a product of the highest quality, but at the end of the day that’s what it is: a machine-made, assembly-line product whose strengths tend to feel like items checked off a master list rather than being the result of any kind of individual creative touch. “Captain America” is everything a big budget superhero film should be — except inspired.

Yep.  5/10

Oldboy: A Postmodern Superhero

Oldboy - poster largeI NEVER SAW the original, highly regarded Korean Oldboy of 2003.  It was on my list, but I did not get around to it by the time I saw the current American release.  So my viewing was not encumbered by its predecessor, but those of most critics was.  The Tomatoemeter is currently at 43%, a score which generally would serve as an avoidance warning.  But it seems every critic entering

The Original (2003)

The Original (2003)

their score is comparing the remake to the original, which I suppose is fair but completely irrelevant to the majority of moviegoers (including myself) who never saw the original.  I will not impugn this as a remake any more than I did The Last House on the Left.  I will judge it based entirely on its own merits.

Now that I have that preamble and disclaimer out of the way, I thought that Oldboy (2013) was a fantastic, fun, exciting and original tale.  It also marks in my mind more activity by the director Spike Lee, though there is nothing old style Spike Lee-ish about this production.  It is reported (see Wikipedia article) that Lee was upset with “heavy editing” of the film which chopped 36 minutes.  That may explain a sense I had of minor incongruities here and there, or of the film being a bit rushed — but maybe the edits weren’t such a bad thing: this movie moves.  Its fast pace, transitioning from one exciting and eclectic plot element to another, helps make this a highly entertaining picture.

To understand what Oldboy is about, I’ll cite Richard Brody of The New Yorker, his entire review:

Hollywood’s wildest cinematic freakout since “Shutter Island” is a remake of—and an improvement on—the Korean original, from 2003. Josh Brolin stars as a swaggering corporate buck and a hard-drinking, philandering divorcé who awakens from a one-night stand to find himself in a motel room that turns out to be a solitary-confinement cell in a private prison. There, he learns from a TV report that he has been framed for the rape and murder of his ex-wife. When he finally gets out, twenty years later, he tries to find his captors, clear his name, and get revenge, but his captors have their own plans for him. The director, Spike Lee, and the screenwriter, Mark Protosevich, have kept the story’s Grand Guignol violence but trimmed its random excrescences and focussed its themes to fit the movie, subtly but decisively, into Lee’s canon. The extreme yet horrific artifice of the setup pulls backstory to the fore and reveals, as if in a sociological X-ray, several lifetimes’ worth of privilege abused, opportunities squandered, and energy (and resources) misspent, and places blame squarely on enablers who blindly encourage destructive behavior and disablers who, with an emblematic lack of compassion, punitively compound and perpetuate the destruction. With Elizabeth Olsen, as a recovering addict now devoted to good works. (In wide release.)

* * *

I just about loved this movie.  To me, I recognize it as a postmodern superhero story, an alternate to the boring Avengers and Supermen and walking dead vampires that are so prevalent and popular these days.  There are both deadly realistic and comic-booky elements (the fight scenes, for example), but the different styles mesh with the corresponding part of the story being depicted to create, again, a wonderfully eclectic and entertaining adventure.

Scott_Tenorman_Must_Die__Season_5__Episode_1__-_Full_Episode_Player_-_South_Park_StudiosCertainly I won’t give away the end, but let’s say that Oldboy is a twisted, wicked story of vengeance sought and served on the order of Seven or the “Scott Tenorman Must Die” episode of South Park.  I’m wavering between an 8 or 9 on this one; for now I’ll give it a high 8/10.

Oldboy_-_Movie_Trailers_-_iTunes 2

Trailer

Movie Bites

email 4 March 2009

Well,

I’ve started watching movies from my new Blockbuster online account.  I have to say I really like the way it works, and a preliminary comparison with Netflix does not fare well for Netflix, that is of the online interface, not to mention you can’t return mailed movies to the local Netflix store to speed up by a day or two how quickly you get the next movie.

I was surprised to find that there was a report yesterday of Blockbuster going bankrupt, as it’s stock fell from about $1 to 22 cents.  I know there is a grand malaise out there with almost all businesses, but I’d think people are renting more than ever to save money compared to going out to the movies.  Plus, I am sure Netflix will have trouble competing.  On the other hand, maybe it is exactly the lack of physical stores, and therefore lack of overhead, that is Netflix’s advantage. Continue reading