Film Review, Uncategorized

The Hateful Eight – A Review

My new year’s resolution for 2016 was to visit the cinema once a month, yesterday I went to The Island Cinema in St Annes On The Sea for my 3rd visit in as many weeks.

So Quentin, watcha got for us?  

A movie.

A movie, eh?  What kind of movie? 

A Western.

Ooh, a  western.  Any good?

Of course it’s good, it’s a Quentin Tarantino movie.

Oh, OK.

Actually, it’s not that good.  I mean it’s ok but this is a guy who’s back catalogue revitalised the movie industry with classics such as Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill and of course Pulp Fiction.  Django Unchained was uncomfortable but ultimately essential viewing and even Inglorious Basterds was a great watch.  It’s safe to say that my experience of the man’s movies to date left me perfectly satiated but The Hateful Eight is served like a big fat Christmas pudding that you don’t really have room for yet you masticate your way through it out of politeness before flopping ungracefully in front of the telly and dozing your way through the Queen’s speech.

I mean, it’s over 3 hours long.  What do you expect from QT?  Great dialogue, a cache of great tunes to add to your BBC Playlister, scintillating characters, ace acting and more twists than a box set of Tales Of The Unexpected.

First off we have Samuel L Jackson (again) and Michael Madsen (again).  Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and a host of other actors – and occasionally actresses – become the rather hateful 14 or so who make up the ensemble.  The action is shot almost entirely in the wooden shack that is Minnie’s Haberdashery – a late 19th Century truck stop of sorts where the coffee’s hot and the stew is good.  The outdoor shots are set in the snowy wilderness of Wyoming and compete with The Revenant for next year’s Christmas card vistas.

True to QT form there is the expected quota of gore, testicles being shot (a nod to IG) and a touch of nudity.  But 3 hours later you leave the cinema thinking there could have been so much more in so much less.  None of the cache of characters really develops into anything other than a cardboard cut-out of any number of Tarantino characters we’ve seen already through his back catalogue and maybe that’s the point.  We’re so familiar with them we know what they do and why they do it.

In a recent interview in Sight And Sound Magazine, Tarantino argued how the genre of Westerns through the decades reflected the prevailing zeitgeist of American political and social thinking.  If The Hateful Eight continues this trend and Tarantino’s brushes with American law enforcement departments over the past 12 months are anything to go by, then this post Civil War picture is a depiction of how the attitudes of post Civil War America are still prevalent in their country today although it is debatable whether Tarantino is doing a better job than Donald Trump of depicting the latter day bigoted American.

This, as you may have gathered is the least loved of Tarantino’s films, by me anyway.  The guy is an exceptional talent but this film might be an indication that either his skills are waning or his imagination has been sucked dry.  I’ll still await his next production with heightened anticipation but he lost a little of his gloss here. What’s next?  Something better, I hope.

Film Review, Uncategorized

The Assassin – A Review

IMG_0328I have wanted to see this film ever since I read a review in Sight & Sound magazine and also because my forays into the Wuxia genre – House OF Flying Daggers, Hidden Dragon Crouching Tiger – left me hugely satisfied.

Last week I directed a Tweet to my nearby independent cinema and Odeon  asking why this picture wasn’t being shown at their cinemas local to me in the Fylde Coast area.  Odeon replied it is on limited release, something to do with print availability and distribution causing me to travel 50 miles to watch it in a tiny 60 seat cinema in the HomeMcr (Home Manchester) complex.

I confess I had no knowledge of Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien prior to engaging my interest with this film but I read about his incredible attention to historic and material detail, meticulous research as well as his disclosure that in historical terms we have little knowledge about the lives and times of the inhabitants of 10th Century China under the Tang dynasty other than its rich written and artistic culture.  Therefore it may be no coincidence that Hou declines to offer little in terms of character backstories but finds sufficient in the beauty of the country, art, furniture and costume to keep us spellbound by his sumptuous and vivid spectacle.

There is a story of a troubled girl, born to a noble family but exiled on grounds of political expediency to be raised by her aunt, a Taoist nun, who trains her in the martial arts to become an efficient and effective killer.  What we see about this assassin, similar to Uma Thurman’s Black Mambo in Kill Bill, she has a conscience, which tends to be pricked when children are involved.  Her failure to complete 2 of her assignments incurs the wrath of her mentor but in between lies all the political intrigue prevalent in a dying dynastic empire of the characters who’s decisions may determine the future of the dynasty and the lives of the many people we encounter. Farmers, nobles and servants are all stakeholders but you get the impression that life, in all its beauty will go on come what may.

We all like a fight scene and on screen death is entertaining.  People die and fight in The Assassin but the combat scenes are fast, short and sporadic.  In fact, the violence is incidental to the film with few gravity defying feats of swordplay at all even though there are occasional nods to the parallel Wuxia universe of jianghu where the constraints of earthly physics are relaxed.  But don’t worry about that.

What makes this film so spectacular and worth the entrance fee is the spectacle and the soundtrack.  There is very little music in the film but instead, vast open vistas of Chinese country are accompanied by the plaintive noises produced by nature.  The chirp of unseen insects or the breeze blowing through the grass; chuckling children at family gatherings, watched at a distance amongst lowing cattle.  It almost has a soporific drawing the viewer into it’s dreamlike landscape – you could almost be in a dream or a spiritual, unseen watcher of preceding behind gently cascading lace curtains, hidden behind a wooden pillar or amongst nature in a forest, perhaps behind a waterfall.

The gentle pace of this film will draw you into its beauty and wrap around you with the warmth of a duvet.  Watch it more than once, it’s intoxicating.