Friday, January 1, 2016

THE HATEFUL EIGHT - Dead Men Tell no Tales

*Note - this pertains to the "Roadshow Version" of The Hateful Eight, which contains roughly 20 minutes of extra footage compared to the theatrical wide release (as well as an overture and intermission).

Quentin Tarantino is, not to mince words, one of the best filmmakers in the business. Not just because he can take genre hallmarks, aesthetics, and needle drops from various decades and combine them into a personal cinematic whole in a way most directors could only dream, but because he also imbues what could be dismissed as violent indulgence from most others with thematic resonance and surprising hilarity. In some of his most careful balancing acts, it's almost like Tarantino is daring the audience to enjoy what they might normally find reproachful, because he knows he can get away with it.

And with The Hateful Eight, Tarantino spends an entire film seeing exactly how far he can walk this very tightrope, while his film screams angrily at the current state of the country from the setting of a century and a half in our sordid past.

Friday, December 18, 2015

STAR WARS - The Fan-service Awakens

It's been ten years since the last STAR WARS movie, and more than 32 years since the last cinematic adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia Organa. So let's be honest, you already know if you're going to see The Force Awakens or not.

But is it good? Yes. Does it wash the taste of the horribly miscalculated Prequel Trilogy from the galaxy? Triumphantly. Was it worth the wait? Mostly. Is it as good as the Original Trilogy?

Well, maybe. If we're only talking about Jedi.

Friday, November 27, 2015

CREED - Earning a Legacy

2015 has already seen one decades-old franchise revival become a major success, and asking for more than that almost seems greedy. But this year's cinematic cup runneth over, and so yet another 1970's film series is finding new life and (potentially) new audiences. However, where Mad Max: Fury Road was another installment with a new actor but the same director telling the next disconnected mythic story of the Road Warrior, Creed comes from journeyman director Ryan Coogler but still follows Sylvester Stallone as the Italian Stallion as he trains a firey new fighter.

For the first time in franchise history, Stallone didn't write the screenplay (he also directed every other film after the original), but the infusion of both Coogler's passionate cinematic storytelling and the talents of Michael B. Jordan as the titular son of Apollo Creed infuse the nearly 40-year-old franchise with potent new life.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

SPECTRE - Of the Past

It's ironic that a film series as long-running and influential as the adventures of James Bond should be defined by how it reacts, but the Bond movies have always been cultural omnivores. Not only do the films play to the tastes of the time (the series has catapulted from spy fiction, "blaxploitation" cinema, and space opera to violent 80's action, digital warfare, outright farce, and grounded rebooting over the years), but has also been a series of reactions to the previous film of the series.

Used correctly, this can lead to a distillation of the character appropriate for post-USSR espionage (see: Goldeneye) or the 00 version of Batman Begins (Casino Royale). Unfortunately for SPECTRE, the 24th entry, the "wisdom" gained from looking outward and inward seems to have gone something like this:


"Hey, people loved Skyfall - let's do all those themes, beats, and stakes again!"

"Yeah, but audiences really like MARVEL movies - let's also rip off big chunks of that Captain America sequel that had a S.P.E.C.T.R.E.-esque organization hiding in plain sight."



"Brilliant!"

...Yeah. It doesn't work out too well.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE EXPECTATIONS

The big news at the box office this weekend is going to be how Fox's newly-opened Fantastic Four (or FANT4STIC, as the posters would have you spell it) is getting its butt kicked by Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation - a film in its second weekend. This is the latest in a string of publicity pitfalls for the superhero picture dating back to reports of production troubles and tepid audience response to the initial marketing materials.

But one of the more head-scratching - and red flag-raising - moments in this debacle was before the review embargo lifted and star Miles Teller remarked that, though the cast hadn't seen the film yet, they weren't expecting it to garner overly-positive reviews from critics because "rarely are films of this size critically well received."

Which is not only laughable in the face of MARVEL Studios' legendarily well-reviewed run, but particularly because this comment was made the very same weekend that the fifth entry in the Mission: Impossible series became a critical darling.

Yes, the fifth film in the "watch Tom Cruise throw himself off of stuff" franchise is legitimately great. How did that happen?

Friday, July 17, 2015

ANT-MAN - Nice Things, Small Packages

Sooner or later, the wheels are going to come off the Marvel gravy train. No one can maintain the level of quality and success that the studio has had since 2008 with the first Iron Man, not in an environment where as many things can go wrong as can go wrong in big-budget film-making.

But seeing as even a film this "doomed" by any conventional wisdom can be as good as it is (which is, make no mistake, quite good), I'm not sure what can derail Marvel.

Because Ant-Man is yet another winner.