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

AMERICAN ULTRA (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Violence, Language throughout, Drug Use and some Sexual Content

AmUltra poster

Directed by: Nima Nourizadeh

Written by: Max Landis

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman & Tony Hale

Sometimes, you walk into a movie knowing precisely what you’re going to get. That was my exact situation with AMERICAN ULTRA. I bought my ticket expecting a batshit insane action-comedy and that’s exactly what I received. Though it’s definitely not for everyone (especially gauging its current low percentage on Rotten Tomatoes), this crazy stoner adventure has a likely chance of going down as a future cult classic. I could see it easily resting next to REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA and SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD. The film is far from perfect and has its problems, but I found AMERICAN ULTRA to be a blast of entertaining mayhem.

AmUltra 1

Mike Howell lives a fairly uninteresting existence. He’s a stoner loser who’s going nowhere and suffers from a crippling number of irrational phobias. The best part of Mike’s life is his long-time stoner girlfriend, Phoebe. One night, a mysterious woman walks into Mike’s workplace and speaks gibberish to him that sound like bad song lyrics. It turns out that these “lyrics” were actually activation code words and Mike is far from your typical stoner. With lots of bad people coming to kill him, Mike finds himself suddenly endowed with a set of deadly skills that he never knew he had. To make it through the night alive, he’ll need some help from Phoebe and a variety of household appliances turned deadly weapons (including a spoon and a dust-pan). Think BOURNE IDENTITY with a BIG LEBOWSKI attitude.

AmUltra 2

AMERICAN ULTRA lives up to its expectations as both a stoner comedy and a crazy action flick, but it also serves as an unconventional romance too. The film is entertaining the whole way through. The screenplay also delivers on what audiences going to a movie about an idiotic stoner sleeper agent would expect to see. The cinematography looks great and uses a lot of distinct stylistic touches. I couldn’t help but admire how the film looked as a whole. There’s a constant fast-pace through the first and third acts, but the film drags during the middle. This could be because the middle section has less action than the rest of the story, but I attribute most of the blame to exposition-heavy conversations (enough to temporarily suck me out of the story).

AmUltra 3

Jesse Eisenberg is usually hit or miss for me. His geeky shtick can be annoying or charming, depending on the material he’s given. Here, Eisenberg is perfectly cast as the dumb, unconventional action hero. His nervous antics lead to many laughs as his predicament goes from bad to worse. Kristen Stewart, playing Phoebe, manages to be a better romantic lead with far more emotion than many past roles of her career. Connie Briton, Tony Hale, and Bill Pullman are side characters who mainly serve to drive the plot forward. Even though their characters are plot devices, they make the most of the screen time they’ve been given. Though Topher Grace may have been woefully miscast as a certain super villain in a well-known comic book franchise, he certainly fits the part of asshole pencil-pusher turned radical villain in this film. His smarmy line delivery and pompous facial expressions make you want to punch him during every one of his scenes. So, a job well done on his part. More intimidating than Grace is Walton Goggins as the simultaneously scary and funny Laugher (one of Grace’s main henchmen). John Leguizamo’s brief turn as a drug dealer is also hilarious, even tough he’s underused.

AmUltra 4

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how awesome the action scenes are in AMERICAN ULTRA. I was shocked at how well-executed these sequences were. Aside from using enough blood to fill a Tarantino shootout, ULTRA gets ultra-creative (sorry, I had to say that) in its violence. We see normal household objects transformed into lethal weapons and these crazy combinations never get old. A sequence in the final third also comes off like the a cross between the KINGSMAN‘s now famous (or infamous) church scene and the final showdown in THE EQUALIZER. Blood splatters all over the place, but never to a sickening degree. None of this is meant to be taken seriously and the movie uses that to its comedic advantage.

AmUltra 5

Slight pacing issues aside, I really enjoyed AMERICAN ULTRA. This is precisely the sort of film that might very well become a cult classic in the near future. The combination of a stoner comedy and a crazy action flick are undeniably appealing for certain crowds. It helps that fun performances and palpable creativity are also thrown into the mix as well. AMERICAN ULTRA is a stoner-centric romantic-action-comedy that delivers on its strange premise.

Grade: B

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑