The Hateful Eight (2015)

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The Hateful Eight suffers from an overly long running time, comparably forgettable characters and the weight of expectation, but it eventually comes to life as the twists and turns occur in rapid succession.

It’s easy to determine the worst film of Tarantino’s career, it’s Death Proof. That one’s firmly at the bottom of the totem pole. Some way up to around the middle of the pole are both volumes of Kill Bill, which had fun action but were utterly lightweight. Deciding which film occupies the top of the monument is quite difficult, as I like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained for a variety of different reasons. These four films are a showcase of the wit, cine-literacy, explosive conflict and idiosyncrasies that have made Tarantino perhaps the most popular director of the past twenty years.

On the surface, The Hateful Eight has the earmarks of a Tarantino film. It has dialogue in abundance, squibby gunfights, incessant use of the word nigger and a hollering Samuel L. Jackson, but Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film is a decidedly mediocre entry into his much loved oeuvres.

The immediate problem is pacing. Unlike some, I seldom found the pacing of Inglourious Basterds or Django Unchained to be a problem, but The Hateful Eight, which has been politely labelled a slow burner by some critics, burns too slowly. It takes a whole half hour of gruff, uneventful drawl before we reach Minnie’s Haberdashery, in which the remainder of the film’s 187 minutes takes place.

Once we’re in the cabin, the aggressively cautious John Ruth (Kurt Russell) demands the identity of everyone. There’s Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L Jackson), a bounty hunter who is watchable but not a departure from familiar Sam Jackson territory; Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), the goofy, ebullient Sheriff of nearby Redrock; Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Ruth’s foul-mouthed bounty who’s on the receiving end of multiple elbows and fists; Oswaldo Mobrey (Tim Roth), a stereotypical Victorian gentleman and hangman; Bob (Demian Bichir), a mumbling Mexican; General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), a cantankerous bastard who fought in the Civil War; and Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a completely disposable stock character.

It is unlikely that any of these characters will leave much of an impression on the viewer, for they are Tarantino’s most unremarkable and thinly drawn in quite some time. You won’t find another Vincent Vega, Jules Winnfield or Colonel Hans Landa here. One would think that a film with this title would have eight very unpleasant characters, and I suppose it does, but I didn’t hate them because I didn’t care. There is a flashback scene in which they are genuinely hateful, but its placement towards the end of the three hour running time blunted its power.

Like he did in Kill Bill vol. 1, Tarantino could’ve made up for the flat characters with some great set pieces. His career has been punctuated with long scenes of iconic humour and dialogue as well as biting tension, suspense and unpredictability. These elements are sometimes present within the cramped four walls of Minnie’s Haberdashery, especially when the mystery begins to unravel. Compare this to Inglourious Basterds, however, and you’ll be swiftly reminded that The Hateful Eight lacks the energy, excitement and intrigue that we expect. There’s nothing that matches the opening interrogation between Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) and the French farmer or Michael Fassbender’s excruciating altercation in the basement bar.

Perhaps most damaging of all is that the dialogue and humour also suffers by comparison. There’s no golden watch sequence, no ‘I just shot Marvin in the face’ moment. There’s nothing that approaches the loquacious flair of Reservoir Dogs and particularly Pulp Fiction. The Hateful Eight‘s most memorable set piece is an ill-judged exchange between Samuel Jackson and Bruce Dern, in which there is a cutaway scene featuring fellatio. It’s crude, unimaginative and below the standard of a two-time Oscar winner for best original screenplay.

All of this would have been avoided if Tarantino had just given the screenplay to Tracy Letts, who wrote the wonderfully twisted Killer JoeLetts is a Pulitzer prize-winning playwright who knows how to ignite all manner of drama within a cramped domestic setting; he also knows how to write an outrageous scene of fellatio. Letts would have stripped it down and added a bit of spice, or probably a whole ghost chili, knowing him.

The tone of this review has been largely negative, but I didn’t hate or even dislike the film. The Hateful Eight is just something of a misfire, a weak ending to Quentin’s so-called historical trilogy. It suffers from a slow start, but the crescendo that builds following the interval reaches a climax that lifts the film up, albeit not to the height of his previous efforts.

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Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Five reasons why President Truman made the right decision

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The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was apocalyptically awful. 70 years ago today, an estimated 90,000 people were immediately killed when Little Boy detonated 1,950ft above Hiroshima – 50,000 more would die by the end of the year. Two days later, Nagasaki was struck by ‘Fat Man’, killing approximately 80,000 people. It was, as the Allies threatened during the Potsdam Conference, ‘prompt and utter destruction’.

Just four months into his presidency, President Harry Truman was tasked with making one of the most important decisions in human history. He chose to put an atomic full stop on six long years of unprecedentedly bloody conflict – here are five reasons why he made the right decision.

To continue reading, please follow this link: www.warhistoryonline.com/guest-bloggers/hiroshima-and-nagasaki-five-reasons-why-president-truman-made-the-right-decision.html

Film Inquiry: I Am Evel Knievel (2014)

Motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel poised on his Harley-Davidson.  (Photo by Ralph Crane//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel poised on his Harley-Davidson. (Photo by Ralph Crane//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

During the 1970s, Evel Knievel was one of the most famous names in America and the world. The huge danger and bravery of his stunts were almost universal in their appeal, but what truly propelled him to super-stardom were his star-spangled costumes, patriotic bravado and perhaps most of all his distinctively mean-sounding nom de guerre. However, underneath the celebrity was, quite frankly, a self-absorbed thug with a propensity for alcohol abuse, infidelity, violence and general criminality.

To read the whole article, please follow this link to Film Inquiry: http://filminquiry.com/i-am-evel-knievel-2014-review/

Eden Lake (2008)

Eden Lake is 90 minutes of cruelty with genre tropes that obscure any intelligent commentary.

With an 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and claims that it is ‘thought provoking’, one would expect Eden Lake to be cut above Hostel, Saw and other torture films that appear comparable. While it may be superior to a certain degree, it remains a decidedly shallow film that is too constrained by the tropes of its horror genre framework to be taken seriously.

The film follows Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender), a young couple who retreat to the Midlands countryside for a romantic break. As the couple drive north of London, there is an ominous radio discussion about the state of education and the perceived animosity brewing between the young and the old, assembling its themes of ‘Broken Britain’ in a manner that is perhaps slightly obvious.

After several disconcerting encounters with some obnoxious locals, the pair set up camp on the sandy banks of a flooded quarry. Their tranquility is soon interrupted by a chavvy young horde of Daily Mail proportions, led by the psychopathically aggressive Brett (Jack O’Connell). The conflict begins with general boorish behaviour and a wayward Rottweiler, and feeling the weight of his masculine responsibilities, Steve approaches the group and politely asks them to behave themselves. His reasonability is spurned and the couple are soon fighting for their lives in what is effectively their attackers’ back yard.

Many barbarous things have happened when the aggressive and the controlling have attracted the meek and the impressionable. The first example that springs to mind is the 1993 abduction and murder of toddler James Bulger by two ten-year-olds, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. The pair’s twisted crescendo of rebellion began with truancy and shoplifting, which led to the idea of abducting a child and pushing it into the path of an oncoming car, which finally led to James’s abduction from the Bootle Strand shopping centre and his brutally protracted murder on train tracks by Anfield Park. The two boys enabled and normalised each other’s behaviour, and the roles of ringleader and minion became quite clear in police interviews.

Once arrested and interrogated by officers, Jon Venables was wrought with intense fear and remorse. He confessed to the killing, but was unable to tell the part of the story that he ominously called ‘the worst bit’. Conversely, Robert Thompson, described as ‘street wise way above the age of ten’, was hostile, dishonest and unrepentant. Thompson and Venables had a typical dynamic that became horribly toxic over a day’s truancy; it could inspire darkly compelling material for either print or cinema, providing it was created with intelligence and sensitivity.

Eden Lake could have been this film. It could have been a mature and intelligent insight into senseless violence and the nihilistic, ignorant, vulnerable people who commonly commit it; a film in a similar vein to A Short Film About Killing or Boy A. Instead, the viewer gets a tropey horror film that focuses on neither the group nor the couple in a meaningful way. The film’s main concern is brutality, such as showing us what it looks like when a Stanley knife is forcibly entered into someone’s mouth.

Despite Eden Lake‘s themes of class and age divide being highly superficial, political commentators have made the film fit their agendas. Owen Jones, one of The Guardian‘s most prominent PC enthusiasts, wrote the following in his book Chavs: ‘Here was a film arguing that the middle classes could no longer live alongside the quasi-bestial lower orders.’ Like many who are preoccupied with ideology and prone to knee jerk reactions, Jones mistakenly believes that the portrayal of one group of teenagers is supposed to be representative of an entire social group comprising millions of people.

With good performances and uncompromising brutality, Eden Lake grips and shakes its audience quite effectively. However, it is mere viscera rather than political commentary, sharing more in common with The Last House on the Left than A Clockwork Orange.

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Diana and the Softening of the Stiff Upper Lip

Diana giving a decidedly tabloid interview to the yellow journalist Martin Bashir. Photo: Reuters
Diana giving a decidedly tabloid interview to the yellow journalist Martin Bashir. Photo: Reuters

When Princess Diana’s life was suddenly cut short in 1997, Britain experienced its first nationwide emotional outburst of pornographic proportions. Long known for its ‘stiff upper lip’, the British seemingly fell to their knees with hysterically maudlin grief over a woman who was nothing more than a socialite – Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton with a bit of class.

Her death was clearly tragic, she was a 36-year-old mother of two, but the media attention she received both before and after her death was entirely undeserved and downright aberrant in its obsessiveness. What was there to admire? She was unintelligent (by her own admission), uncharismatic, enormously privileged and manipulative on occasion. Despite this, she was not hateful or even particularly dislikable, so the bulk of one’s exasperation should not lie with Diana, but with the media, who, on the morning of 1st September 1997, insisted that Britons across the nation had to mourn a multi-millionaire celebutante they had never met.

The toxic seeds of the international media’s relationship with Diana were planted around 1980, when Prince Charles began courting her. The incessant coverage she subsequently received is rather curious because, like many socialites, the depth of her personality left much to be desired. That didn’t matter of course as she was blonde, blue-blooded and the potential partner of the heir to the throne. The tabloids treated Diana as a sex object, a pretty doll whose coy expressions could tame the Prince in time for his kingship.

It is clear to those with even a modicum of emotional intelligence that Diana and Charles simply weren’t compatible. She was nineteen, naïve and neurotic and Charles had neither the time nor the inclination to spend enough time with her – it was a union orchestrated by each other’s families that neither was ready for. Frankly, their doomed marriage was a 15-year hiatus in the relationship between Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles, which was and now is a far more appropriate partnership.

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When everyone got bored some poor bastard had to clear this up.

The media and the public are often keen to glorify an individual when they die prematurely, but with Diana it verged on canonisation. The scores of people who laid flowers and openly wallowed defended their cheap, morbid bereavement by harking on about the virtues of Diana’s charity work, but how virtuous was it?

The images of Diana walking near land mines and prodding terminally ill people are familiar, but what else was she supposed to do when she wasn’t strolling the grounds of Balmoral or building a new gilded existence with the disagreeable Fayed family? Charities have become a fashion accessory amongst A-list celebrities; they’re paraded around much like those ridiculous bug-eyed handbag dogs. It’s somewhat cynical to think this way, and not all celebrity charities are self-serving endeavours (Spielberg’s Shoah foundation, for example), but it’s quite obvious that sanctimony and ‘fitting in’ are primary incentives for many philanthropic celebrities.

It’s often claimed that Diana was a victim of the paparazzi, but she used these free PR agents to create her personality cult. As the frenetic chatter of paparazzos’ cameras started to follow Diana wherever she went, she learned how to present herself and manipulate these desperate parasites.From the battlegrounds of Bosnia to the minefields of Angola, her every precious step was captured and broadcast for the whole world to fawn over. I’d shake the hand of every leper in town if I was adored and almost beatified by swathes of people from the world over!

Unfortunately, it seems many people cherish the image rather than the long, hard graft of real innovation and achievement. Take Norman Borlaug for example, he was an American biologist whose high-yield, disease-resistant wheat vastly improved the food supply in Asia and Africa, causing him to be nicknamed ‘The Man Who Saved A Billion Lives’. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his contributions to world peace, but despite his profound betterment of humanity, Borlaug’s mainstream fame is minimal because he was an old bald man from Iowa.

Jody Williams, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.
Jody Williams, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. Photo: Judy Rand

A more direct comparison is Jody Williams, whose extensive work in anti-landmine campaigning and other political activism was also rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. Williams was active at the same time as Diana, but heartfelt political principles are of minimal interest to those who enjoy crying, so her committed political career went largely unnoticed by the general public, who found the glamour and fantasy of Diana to be infinitely more watchable.

Diana’s saintly reputation was (and still is) the creation of a mawkishly money-minded press and a disconcertingly large part of the population who willingly indulged it with teary-eyed relish. The other key influence on the event was Prime Minister Tony Blair. Diana’s death occurred at a very opportune time for the newly elected leader; after winning a landslide victory with the New Labour campaign in 1997, he was swiftly handed a chance to connect with ‘the people’ on an emotional level with an intensity perhaps unseen since VE day 52 years prior.

It was Blair who popularised the laughable moniker ‘the People’s Princess’. This is a woman who was bought a £100,000 house for her eighteenth birthday, wore a £9000 wedding dress, and was somehow worth an estimated $40 million at the time of her death – how on earth can she be considered a figure that represented the people?

The footage of myriad plebs flocking to Buckingham Palace and even camping around it so they could mourn an aristocratic celebutante they had never met is pathetic in the true sense of the word. They were shamelessly caught up in Diana’s cult of personality, exposing much of humanity’s need to worship someone or something, whether it’s Jesus Christ or Kim Kardashian’s arse.

Many laughed at North Korea when they hysterically mourned the death of Kim Jong Il, but look at this idiot on the grounds of Buckingham Palace.
Many laughed at North Korea when they hysterically mourned the death of Kim Jong Il, but look at this idiot on the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Photo: Daily Mail

Blair wasn’t the only public figure to endorse and exacerbate the media’s campaign of crying, Elton John and Bernie Taupin rewrote Candle in the Wind to fit the occasion. Of course, all proceeds went to charity, but it is clear that the song’s purpose was to vastly inflate John’s ego, not his $450 million bank balance.

Candle in the Wind 1997 is the anthem for the infantile, protracted emotional outbursts that have become so commonplace, whether it’s Jade Goody’s made-for-TV cancer battle or the never-ending Hillsborough disaster. The lyricism of Candle in the Wind is very much to the taste of those who thought it was appropriate to give a kitsch teddy bear to a dead stranger, highlights include: ‘For our nation’s golden child’, ‘All our words cannot express / The joy you brought us through the years’, ‘From a country lost without your soul’.

Where does one begin with these stupid lyrics? I’m sure Elton felt much joy when he rubbed his sycophantic shoulders with Diana at glitzy, gaudy high society functions, but what joy did she bring to the rest of us lowly serfs? The most offensive of the song’s claims is that Britain – the first industrialised nation who conquered much of the world, contributed significantly to science and the arts and defeated some of history’s greatest tyrants – was ‘lost’ without the soul of some posh totty. Elton and Taupin were right about the ‘nation’s golden child’ bit though – she had a 20 million pound jewellery collection.

The solemn dignity of Henry Purcell’s March once flooded Westminster Abbey for the funeral of Queen Mary II in 1695; I wonder what Purcell would have made of Taupin’s claptrap and the melodrama of John’s pianism? I shouldn’t think anyone else gives a toss though, because a 2002 poll revealed that the British public considered Diana to be the third greatest Briton of all time, putting her ahead of Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Charles Babbage and Tim Berners-Lee. I know, it is just a list, but it’s still a disconcerting measure of the public’s preference for vapid celebrity over true understated genius.

The whole Diana issue is wrapped in another layer of stupidity when one considers the monarchy and the population’s relationship with it. Britain’s former draconian rigidity and pomp and circumstance was largely eroded by two World Wars and cultural revolution, causing the Royal Family to look terribly archaic and useless. The perpetually sour-faced Queen and her clan have devolved into little more than a tinselly tourist attraction for American and Commonwealth tourists to gawp at.

The cultural bastardisation of the Diana debacle stressed just how absurd the notion of royalty is. With their divorces, syrupy concerts (more of that in a minute) and Nazi themed fancy dress, the Royals have dumbed down along with the rest of mainstream culture, reminding us more than ever that they too are homo-sapiens, African apes with tiaras and fascinators. The French realised this in the 18th century, and even though I understand and enjoy the allure of tradition, it’s about time we did, too.

I may disagree with their unearned adoration, but that doesn’t mean I dislike the Royals as people. William and Harry appear perfectly affable, so it was particularly disappointing when they organised and hosted the Concert for Diana in 2007. The show commemorated what would have been her 46th birthday, which was almost 2 months before the 10th anniversary of her death and the subsequent destruction of British values.

Make some noise for Princess Diana y'all! Photo: MTV
Toe curling: ‘Make some noise for Princess Diana y’all!’ Photo: MTV

Elton John returned, opening and closing the ceremony with a selection of naff ballads. The rest of the concert comprised 26 acts, ranging from Duran Duran (Diana’s favourite band) and Tom Jones to Kanye West and ‘P. Diddy’, or ‘Puff Daddy’ or ‘Diddy’ or whatever juvenile pseudonym he was using at time. Musically, P. Diddy’s performance was very lacklustre, he instead channeled his efforts into what he called ‘Diana’s rebirth’, which saw him walking to the front of the stage and asking the audience to join in with him shouting ‘We love you! We miss you!’ Diddy’s self-serving display left me utterly incredulous.

Using a format similar to Red Nose Day, the concert was punctuated with short films of charity workers and other interviewees relentlessly praising Diana as if she was the Earth’s first faultless human being. The last film that championed a real-life figure so spectacularly was Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens (1935).

Whether it is the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, the sob stories in the weekly pabulum that is The X-Factor, or the death of Jade Goody (don’t get me started), an unhealthy appetite for vicarious bereavement and the 24hr media circuses that satiate it continue to rage on. The masses may eventually get a grip, but the damage has already been done. There will always be two categories of people: those who cried when Diana died and those who rightfully did not.

Film Inquiry: A Trip to Normandy and Saving Private Ryan

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I first saw Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan in the early 2000s; it was a VHS copy playing on a big old JVC television that had a similar depth to a Toyota Aygo. I have since seen Saving Private Ryan a large number of times, but my reaction to its first 25 minutes remains unchanged, a reaction of shock, recoil and deep admiration for the people who executed this excellent, transformative piece of filmmaking.

My knowledge of WW2 was minimal at this time, but I roughly knew the basics. I had long known that the baddie was a loud man with a funny moustache that resembled a paintbrush (my father would often place one over his mouth like a second-rate Charlie Chaplin). So familiar was I with Hitler’s appearance that, at the age of 6 or 7, I drew pictures of Hitler being killed spectacularly by my maternal grandfather surrounded by his proud, cheering comrades. I was vaguely aware that Hitler committed suicide in reality, but I chose to ignore this and, long before Tarantino did, created an alternate history in which my grandfather, Sergeant George Rice, singularly killed Adolf Hitler… I thought the premise was entirely plausible.

To continue reading, please follow the link: filminquiry.com/trip-normandy-saving-private-ryan/

Film Inquiry: Maps to the Stars (2014)

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Maps To The Stars is about the aspects of Hollywood that, as a film fan, I‘d rather not think about. Written by the acerbic Bruce Wagner, it is about the cynicism of the industry, about the actors who are motivated by vanity and the money-minded executives who exploit them.

These people’s heads have been long removed from their shoulders, their molly-coddled lives are run by other people as they incessantly try and top up their serotonin through drink, drugs, sex and bastardised spiritualism with increasingly less success. It has been called ‘narratively unwieldy’ by the ‘tomato-meter’, and the events in the latter stages of the film are certainly dramatic and in quick succession, however Maps To The Stars is a great, grotesque satire from David Cronenberg, who could also be described in such terms!

To continue reading, please follow the link to Film Inquiry: http://filminquiry.com/maps-to-the-stars-2014-review/