HARDCORE HENRY (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Non-Stop Bloody Brutal Violence and Mayhem, Language throughout, Sexual Content/Nudity and Drug Use

Hardcore poster

Directed by: Ilya Naishuller

Written by: Ilya Naishuller

Starring: Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett, Tim Roth, Andrei Dementiev & Cyrus Arnold

HARDCORE HENRY is an independent Russian action film that was born of a music video (Bad Motherfucker by Biting Elbows) and funded through an Indiegogo campaign. It was then filmed with a dozen GoPro cameras, a hundred stunt people, and lots of special effects. This seemed like an ambitious project that was destined to debut on video-on-demand, but the movie gods smiled upon HARDCORE HENRY and it’s been graced with a nationwide theatrical release. Part of the reasoning behind this decision revolves around HARDCORE’s interesting gimmick of being told entirely from a first-person point-of-view. This is essentially a live-action video game on the big screen. It’s a lot of fun to watch, but also comes with a couple of big problems that keep it from being as awesome as it probably should have been.

Hardcore 1

You are Henry. After an unseen violent encounter, you wake up in a strange laboratory to find that you’ve been healed with superhuman cybernetic limbs. Before you can fully adjust to your new body (not yet fitted with a voice box), telekinetic villain Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) bursts into the facility and begins killing people left and right. You and Estelle (your wife, played by Haley Bennett) board an escape pod, but crash into a busy highway. After Akan’s mercenaries kidnap her, you find yourself on a dangerous quest to get your beloved wife back. Throughout your journey, you’ll be aided by a colorful individual known as Jimmy (Sharlto Copley). It also goes without saying that you’ll leave a high body count in your wake.

Hardcore 2

Of course, HARDCORE HENRY’s main hook is the unique first person perspective. HENRY isn’t necessarily the first film to do this (2013’s MANIAC remake, 1947’s film noir LADY IN THE LAKE), but it’s probably the first action-packed adventure to take this approach. If you can handle motion sickness (this is on the same level as your average found footage movie) and love goofy action B-flicks, you’ll likely be entertained. I’m honestly surprised that this movie got away from the MPAA with an R rating. There’s definitely a borderline NC-17 level of violence here, but that’s not a complaint. It’s one of the goriest wide releases since 2012’s DREDD and 2010’s PIRANHA. Thugs are shredded through fans, heads are blown in half, bodies explode, and gallons of blood flood a massive final showdown.

Hardcore 3

The flimsy storyline basically serves as an excuse to jump from one carnage-filled confrontation to another. While that’s not necessarily a terrible thing considering the gimmick and over-the-top tone of this film, it does transform into a noticeable annoyance when the script becomes so convoluted that it simply can’t make sense of itself. Director/writer Ilya Naishuller admitted in the film’s Q&A session that long sections of the movie were pretty much made up as they went along. Boy, does it show. The plot has lots of cool ideas, but can’t make sense of them in a coherent screenplay. I found myself sitting back and enjoying the first-person action, while simultaneously trying to block out just how stupid the story was.

Hardcore 4

Bad writing isn’t HENRY’s only big problem though. The acting ranges in being varying degrees of bad across the board. I wasn’t expecting this film to have a pinnacle of award-winning performances, but you (as the silent Henry) give the best performance in this film from your theater seat. At least, Sharlto Copley seems to be having fun in the many colorful roles of Jimmy (a hippie, a hobo, a coke head, an overly polite general, etc.). Haley Bennett’s Estelle is a wooden damsel-in-distress, while Tim Roth pops in briefly to deliver one bad-ass line of dialogue. The worst performance in the entire film comes from Danila Kozlovsky as the psychic Akan, who frequently attempts to be funny and falls flat with every single line. Like I said, first-person POV Henry gives the best performance in this film (and he was played by fourteen different stunt people, not including the audience).

Hardcore 5

HARDCORE HENRY will definitely appeal towards those who don’t necessarily need a plot to go along with their bloody action. In spite of my complaints, I had fun watching this film. However, I just wish (much like the director) that more preparation had gone into the story and project as a whole. HENRY’s unbelievably cool technical skills are unworthy of the mediocre writing and bad acting. HARDCORE HENRY probably has potential as a future cult classic for its sheer absurdity and balls-to-the-wall attitude. It’s a film that’s every bit as entertaining as it is stupid. If you feel like slaying hordes of Russian bad guys in creatively bloody ways, going head to head with a tank, plummeting from a helicopter, and doing other cool, violent things from the safety of your movie theater seat, then you’ve probably already made up your mind to see/become HARDCORE HENRY!

Grade: B

THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 47 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Violence, a scene of Violent Sexual Content, Language and some Graphic Nudity

Hateful8 poster

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Written by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, James Parks, Channing Tatum & Zoe Bell

Love him or hate him, it cannot be argued whether or not Quentin Tarantino is a unique filmmaker. You can always tell when you’re watching a Tarantino film. To me, he hasn’t yet made a bad movie and his winning streak continues with the heavily anticipated HATEFUL EIGHT. Tarantino’s eighth movie is a gory western crossed with an Agatha Christie mystery. Though HATEFUL EIGHT definitely isn’t made for everyone, I had a blast watching Tarantino’s suspenseful, stylish western-mystery unfold.

Hateful8 1

In the aftermath of the Civil War, black bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren has found himself stranded in the middle of a wintry wilderness. His chance at survival comes in a lone stagecoach carrying John Ruth “The Hangman” (a bounty hunter who keeps his prisoners alive to see the hangman’s noose) and prisoner Daisy Domergue (a murderess with ten thousand dollars on her head). Warren, The Hangman, Daisy, and another passenger are overtaken by a vicious blizzard and find shelter in an isolated lodge. Inside this comfy establishment are a handful of questionable folks. Things slowly turn violent as one of lodge guests appears to be have deadly intentions of setting Daisy free.

Hateful8 2

Two versions of THE HATEFUL EIGHT are currently playing in theaters: the general release (the version that I saw) and an extended director’s cut (running 20 minutes longer in road show format). The film is a little long in the tooth (mainly due to establishing shots and scene transitions), but definitely packs the bloody punch. Though it’s a far more contained movie than INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (my favorite of Tarantino’s filmography) or DJANGO UNCHAINED, HATEFUL EIGHT finds Quentin returning to his roots as the film somewhat resembles his debut RESERVOIR DOGS. A majority of the story takes place within a single location (in this case, the lodge) and most of the tension arises from an antagonist hiding in plain sight.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT

My comparison of Tarantino’s latest film to his directorial debut is not meant as a negative one, because HATEFUL EIGHT thrives on slow-building suspense and mystery that is unlike anything this filmmaker has attempted before. While the rest of his filmography ranges from bloody journeys of vengeance to non-linear crime tales, this is ostensibly a murder mystery set in post-Civil War Wyoming. The first half builds on uneasy tension and colorful character introductions/interactions. The second half becomes a carnage-laden bloodbath and dangerous discoveries lie around every corner.

Hateful8 4

The HATEFUL characters themselves are played by a solid cast of talented performers. Samuel L. Jackson takes center stage as Warren and its one of the best roles of his entire career. Tarantino has managed to combine everything that’s badass about Jackson’s usual action heroes into one character with a complicated sympathetic side. Kurt Russell seems to be channeling John Wayne in “The Hangman.” Jennifer Jason Leigh is a fiercely unhinged screen presence as the psychotic, dangerous (and frequently abused) Daisy Domergue. Walton Goggins (previously seen in this year’s underrated AMERICAN ULTRA) receives the biggest role of his career thus far, while Tim Roth plays a slimy character with unclear intentions. Meanwhile, Bruce Dern shows up as a racist old-timer, Michael Madsen plays a foreboding cowboy, and Channing Tatum also has a brief (but very memorable) role. The best thing about all of these characters is that we don’t know who to root for and clues revealed during the second half of the film unveil who’s bad and who’s worse.

Hateful8 5

To cap all of these positive qualities off, HATEFUL EIGHT’s cinematography is gorgeous and the dread-soaked soundtrack lends a perfect sense of unease to the already well-crafted story. Seeing as this is a Tarantino film, you should brace yourself for plenty of witty dialogue, over-the-top bloodshed, and a darker than dark sense of humor. The last of these qualities seems to have made a splash with people as one of the running gags could be seen as controversial. However, it seemed to get a big positive reaction from the audience in my theater and I was laughing the whole way through. Tarantino has managed to balance unexpected suspense with his special brand of expected blood-soaked mayhem. Though THE HATEFUL EIGHT might run a tad long, it’s a near-perfect film from one of my all-time favorite directors. Face it. You already kind of know whether this movie is for you or not.

Grade: A

PULP FICTION (1994)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Graphic Violence and Drug Use, Pervasive Strong Language and some Sexuality

PulpFic poster

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Written by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Maria de Medeiros, Ving Rhames, Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette & Christopher Walken

Coming off of RESERVOIR DOGS, Quentin Tarantino was recognized as a rising talent. This led to Miramax instantly green lighting Tarantino’s next film based solely on his script. So at Cannes 1994, Tarantino’s sophomore effort PULP FICTION premiered to much acclaim, awards and success. Since its release, the crime anthology has cemented itself as a pop culture phenomenon and frequently ranks amongst the best films ever made. Whereas RESERVOIR DOGS had a couple of slight flaws that kept it from perfection, PULP FICTION was the first outright Tarantino masterpiece. This film is simply awesome! Told in a non-linear format of four interlocking crime stories, PULP FICTION is an anthology that was unlike any other at the time. So without further ado, I’ll get to the stories…

MSDPUFI EC003

THE DINER (Wraparound): This segment opens and closes the film from two different points of view. A couple (referring to themselves as Honey Bunny and Pumpkin) begin a conversation about mistakes that can be made in robbing banks, gas stations and other locations, only to reveal that they’ve planned an ingenious robbery of a diner. Their plan doesn’t exactly play out the way they intended it to when a mysterious patron steps in. This segment immediately throws the quirky sensibilities of PULP FICTION at the viewer. Despite being not necessarily funny in that the characters are despicable, this story thrives on witty dialogue and little touches. It’s pretty excellent stuff that cuts to credits and then we get…

MCDPUFI EC001

VINCENT VEGA AND MARSELLUS WALLACE’S WIFE: Out of all the segments in PULP FICTION, this is the least violent. A hitman, Vince Vega, is instructed to take his boss’s wife out for a date. This is especially nerve-wracking for Vince, because his boss, Marsellus Wallace, is known for being vicious towards people who cross him. In an unexpected turn of events, Vega and Mia Wallace hit it off very well at a 1950’s-themed restaurant. The date gets complicated as things go on, but you can’t help but feel that there’s some real chemistry between Vega (played in a stellar turn by John Travolta) and Mia (a sexy Uma Thurman). It feels nice to see a bit of relaxation and tenderness in a movie that’s so crazy and violent on every other front. This story is far lighter fare than…

MSDPUFI EC004

THE GOLD WATCH: Butch is a boxer paid off by Marsellus (yes, the mob boss from the previous story) to take a dive during his final boxing match. However, Butch decides to get greedy and cash in on himself winning the match. Now on the run, Butch realizes that his beloved gold watch (handed down through three generations) is still at his apartment. His journey to retrieve the watch takes him through encounters with very nasty people…and I’m not just talking about gangsters. It seems like this segment gets a bit too dark for some, but I love it. It’s grim and pretty disturbing, but never revels in an unpleasant nature. Things are sick and wrong, but somehow remain fun and entertaining. You know that you’ve done something right when MAD TV and THE SIMPSONS are brilliantly lampooning your material in a way that pays respect to it rather than outright mocks it. Though this story is friggin’ messed up, we get a lighter touch with the final full length story…

MSDPUFI EC001

THE BONNIE SITUATION: Vince Vega and his partner, Jules, are assigned to kill a few guys who screwed over Marsellus. The hit is successful, but the pair wind up with an accidental corpse in the backseat of their car in broad daylight. In a desperate attempt to avoid jail, they hide at Jules’s friend’s home and try to clean up. This segment might seem sort of uneventful, but it’s damn near entirely driven by dialogue between the characters. Whether it’s Quentin Tarantino (in a far better cameo than his stint in RESERVOIR DOGS) talking about non-existent signs on his lawn or Harvey Keitel (cast as the charismatic Wolf) teaching the pair of blood-soaked killers how to best cover their tracks. It’s all entertaining to a ridiculously satisfying degree. There’s no real way of describing why, because you’ll fall under its spell as this segment goes on.

MSDPUFI EC005

Usually, my anthology reviews have grades for each of the segments and an overall grade for the whole film. There’s no need for that approach in PULP FICTION because each of four interlocking crime stories are A+ worthy. The film’s fun tone and sense of style permeates through all of its segments, even though each can be held up as their own individual stories. Ranging from funny and charming to twisted and darkly hilarious, Quentin Tarantino’s sophomore film is a classic that will hold a strong place in cinema history. I’d tell you to watch it, but you probably already have.

Grade: A+

RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and Language

ResDogs poster

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Written by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Quentin Tarantino & Kirk Baltz

Quentin Tarantino’s rise to fame is a tale that inspires any filmmaker. This twenty-something transformed from a video store clerk/film buff seemingly overnight to a sensation at Sundance 1992 with his directorial debut, RESERVOIR DOGS. Tarantino is clearly a guy who loves movies and that comes across in his work. While some might find his frequent homages to older movies to be a bit obnoxious, those who love the man’s work really love the man’s work. I fall into the latter category. Tarantino became one of my favorite filmmakers during formative years of high school when my passion for critiquing films was coming out. Though it can be a bit too self-indulgent in its dialogue, RESERVOIR DOGS is part of the reason that independent cinema is where it is today and Tarantino’s debut still holds up over two decades later.

MCDREDO EC016

A mob boss and his son organize an elaborate, seemingly foolproof diamond heist. In the process, they hire six criminals and assign each an alias (Mr. White, Mr. Orange, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Pink, Mr. Blue, and Mr. Brown). In a shocking twist, the robbery goes horribly wrong with two men dying, Orange getting a bullet in his gut, and the rest of the crooks scrambling to put together why this happened and what to do about it. They come to the conclusion that there must be an undercover cop in their midst and the whole job was doomed to begin with. As minutes pass, blood spills and the criminals get more desperate for the identity of the rat. We are given these answers and plot points through flashbacks of the remaining criminals.

MSDREDO EC017

Non-linear storytelling is part of the reason that RESERVOIR DOGS works so well. What might have been huge restrictions for other directors (a lack of sets and short amount of time), Tarantino turns into strengths. We never see the actual robbery, but we hear details about it from the characters. We are also shown the direct aftermath of the botched job which leads helps our imaginations piece together what a bloody, chaotic mess it was. Using careful stylistic choices, Tarantino thrusts the viewer right into the film’s oddball tone right from the beginning. This movie is violent and serious, but also has a twisted and darkly comical sense of humor. The latter is immediately obvious through an opening monologue about Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” actually being a song about big dicks and a now infamous torture scene set to the song “Stuck in the Middle with You.” It bears mentioning that Tarantino knew how to implement good soundtracks from the beginning of his career. With a running joke of K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies playing on the radio, Tarantino appropriately uses songs to help set the tone of his movie.

MSDREDO EC001

If there’s anything that will make or break your experience with RESERVOIR DOGS, it will be whether or not you enjoy watching these criminals. Frankly, I love these colorful (not only in name) characters. Tarantino doesn’t make the mistake of glamorizing their immoral lifestyle as he shows the ugly nature and frequent conflicts erupting amongst them. Harvey Keitel is fantastic as Mr. White. Though we aren’t given much info about his personal life, you can see that there are redeeming qualities to this villainous character by the way he treats the wounded Mr. Orange. Another big stand-out is Michael Madsen as the psychopathic Mr. Blonde. He’s just as entertaining as he is scary. Meanwhile, Steve Buscemi plays the slimy “professional” Mr. Pink extremely well. Lawrence Tierney and Chris Penn blend right into the roles of mob boss Joe and his son Nice Guy Eddie. The only performance that occasionally gets over-the-top in comes from Tim Roth as Mr. Orange. A few of his lines come off like he’s overacting.

MSDREDO EC006

RESERVOIR DOGS is one of the most influential independent films in cinematic history. It helped revolutionize a new era of filmmaking during the 90’s. Though Tarantino can be a little too self-indulgent in moments (he’s not a good actor, but still gives himself a cameo as Mr. Brown), his directorial debut stands as one of the most darkly entertaining crime movies ever made. RESERVOIR DOGS is pretty much required viewing for cinephiles everywhere.

Grade: A

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑