This comes as one of the better adaptations of a King story, bringing along with it some fun, frightening terror, as one man's memories become a haunted house in a creepy hotel room.
Cell. 2016. Directed by Tod Williams. Screenplay by Adam Alleca & Stephen King, based on King’s novel of the same name.
Starring John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabelle Fuhrman, Stacey Keach, Joshua Mikel, Alex ter Avest, Griffin Freeman, E. Roger Mitchell, & Wilbur Fitzgerald. The Genre Co./Benaroya Pictures/Cargo Entertainment.
Rated R. 98 minutes.
Cell is one of the few Stephen King novels I’ve not yet read at this stage. He’s one of my favourite writers, as well as a huge influence on me as an author myself. His influence is large and encompasses generations of weird kids who read his work growing up, whose touch made us more confident in mining the darker regions of our minds. Not only does he inspire readers, writers, he further has left a mark on horror directors, many of whom cut their teeth in the genre first by reading his books. Regardless of who you are or what you do, King is able to get to you. My mother was an avid reader. Then she passed his books on down to me, as they always interested me on the shelf and she’d say “Not until you’re a little older” and so eventually I read them all, devouring each page until there was nothing left. Now, 31 at the time of this writing, my bookshelves at the home which I share with my girlfriend are filled with a small library of solely Stephen King books. His writing is almost like a family tradition between myself and my mother. His work transcends genre, which is funny because those only familiar with a few of his stories always peg him as a horror writer, or that guy who writers creepy stories, and other descriptions. But he is capable of crossing genres and while captivating you with scary moments King always has something bigger happening underneath.
With the film adaptation of Cell, King had a hand in the screenplay alongside screenwriter Adam Alleca (wrote the remake of The Last House on the Left). Some King films suffer because his writing isn’t always easy to adapt for the screen, so I’m inclined to give the movies he’s more involved with a better shot. A Good Marriage was, to me, enjoyable even if it wasn’t great. Because the writing was good, even if the casting wasn’t spot on. Here, I can’t judge versus the book. I can only come to this adaptation with fresh eyes. Although it can’t be too bad to take another ride into creepy King territory with the likes of John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, right? Add in Isabelle Fuhrman, who was amazing in Orphan, and that’s a solid three leads to keep things grounded.
One of the more initially unsettling moments is just after the half hour mark. A bunch of the infected people scream in unison, their mouths open, and it’s super eerie to watch and hear at the same time. Quite Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a nice homage without being a rip-off. A trippy, brief scene that only gets creepier right afterwards. The imagery shows us the horde of people together in a scary huddle, then the shot goes up, fading into the cell tower, and then we cut to a beautiful waterfall. There’s an excellently juxtaposed feeling of nature v. man-made structures, further in that we’ve perverted nature and now this return to a primitive state has thrust people back into a more basic, more savage world. Subtly, the camera work takes us through that amidst the small trio’s efforts to understand the situation around them. Not long after is the terrifying scene where Charles Ardai (Stacey Keach) introduces the stadium full of infected, laying in piles, all lulled by the cellphones. Almost a parallel to those hordes of people out on the sidewalks, walking with their heads down and face, eyes, everything stuck on a screen. That’s the wholly intriguing aspect to this King story, in either form. It takes on our nearly disease-like addiction to technology in an appropriate way. Sure, this takes the form of what we’ve seen many times before, another zombie flick, another form of the same story, the same types of characters. A certain amount of that still applies. Something I dig is that these characters are a little atypical, in that they’ve come together more randomly than other movies – another one I like in that regard is the Dawn of the Dead remake. So you’ve got less of that stale family first ethic, instead focused on just a bunch of people, all with their own fears, emotions, thoughts, plans, hopes, et cetera.
Another scene that got to me was the nightmare Clay Riddell (Cusack) had – the imagery all around was scary as hell. Loved it. Not only that it leads into them all having a collective dream about the same character, one that Clay drew in his comics previously. But simply that brief scene where Clay finds the red hoodie man getting a blowjob in a decrepit bathroom, the tear in the man’s cheek, the blood, his odd demeanour, everything adds up to be totally unnerving.
I do think Alleca and King wrote a decent screenplay. There’s nothing wrong with what they’ve done. However, disappointingly enough I feel like neither Cusack nor Jackson does anything worthwhile with the characters. You can’t say there’s nothing interesting about the characters themselves. First you’ve got Clay, he’s a guy who draws comics, he has a tough family life with a son he loves, and all kinds of personal stuff. Problem being maybe we’ve seen this character type too many times from Cusack, and no longer is there anything to mine from that starved patch of ground. Secondly, Tom McCourt (Jackson) is a Vietnam veteran, he’s a tough son of a bitch. And maybe again, we’ve seen this style of character from Jackson so often that seeing him in a zombie-type story to boot only makes it more cliché. However, that’s meant to be the power of an actor, if they can make you believe them and their portrayal, over and over. Though I do love both Cusack and Jackson in their own rights, having performed a ton of great characters between them, they don’t give us what we need here.
That task is left to Isabelle Fuhrman. Her portrayal of Alice Maxwell is really good. She doesn’t always get the right amount of time to do her thing, but when she does it’s solid work. If only her character were given more then it’s possible that could have made the movie better than it comes off. She’s a talented actor who I hope will get some bigger, better roles. Here, she’s able to root us emotionally before destroying us after the arc of her character breaks your heart.
Ultimately, I’ll say Cell is about a 3-star zombie flick. There are a couple elements that make it less typical, mainly in its approach to the entire infection sub-genre of horror. Stephen King and Adam Alleca adapt King’s novel into a decently creepy piece of work. Plenty of flaws to boot and there are definitely lacklustre performances out of Cusack and Jackson. At the same time, I found myself creeped out at times. More would be better, but the terror King’s story is able to bring out makes this better than most low budget zombie movies floating around out there. In addition to the writing, there’s great atmosphere; some nice cinematography, as well as a score that’ll keep you on edge while it swells and falls and sucks you in.
Some scenes will stick out, from the one in the bar to a short time later when Clay unmasks an infected man he – for a moment – believes to be his son. There’s enough to enjoy and to make this worth watching. Plus, I really enjoyed the ending. Not near one of my favourite King stories adapted to film, though. Perhaps I’ll enjoy the novel more once I get around to giving it a read because the premise alone is horrifying. The execution of the film is what leaves much to be desired.
Unbreakable. 2000. Directed & Written by M. Night Shyamalan.
Starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright, Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woodard, Eamonn Walker, Leslie Stefanson, & Michael Kelly. Touchstone Pictures/Blinding Edge Pictures/Barry Mendel Productions/Limited Edition Productions Inc.
Rated Pg. 106 minutes.
Everyone has their starkly contrasted opinions of M. Night Shyamalan. Despite his few rough patches over the years, recently he came back strong with the horror-thriller in found footage style The Visit, which I loved. Everyone knows of The Sixth Sense whether they’ve seen it or only heard of it. But Unbreakable is his definitive masterpiece. It is small and subdued, yet at the same time epic in scale. Shyamalan tells the story of superheroes, but in a contained and human fashion. The tales of good and evil were translated from gods of the Greek pantheon into comic books a hundred years ago. Shymalan’s film is one of the more contemporary takes on the superhero genre, without even directly coming out and saying the word, really. He boils it down to something smaller. Just like the character Elijah Price suggests, the stuff of those mythic comic heroes is tangible, exaggerated for flare and commercial interests. With a beautiful, rhythmic style, a steady pace that reveals the story in an exciting way, Shyamalan crafts one of the modern classics. This one is a work of art.
David Dunn (Bruce Willis) comes back from an interview via train and it goes off the rails. Everyone except him dies. He walks away “miraculously unharmed” which makes things all the more unbelievable. Soon, a man named Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) contacts him. From there they develop a strange connection, mostly insisted upon by Price. He believes David is his opposite. Elijah has a condition which causes his bones to break easily; he sees David as indestructible.
What their relationship comes to mean for David is life changing. Neither he nor Elijah will ever be the same again.
As David Dunn wakes up after the accident, he’s left to sit and watch the only other survivor waste away right in front of him. Terrifying. Then to walk away without a scratch, it’s got to be emotionally devastating to wonder, for him, how he was spared. This brings into question things like the nature of life, fate, for some it brings to mind ideas of God, et cetera. So before we know what’s happening there is a truly humanist root to the story being told.
The parallel between the characters is incredible. Obviously mirroring the relationship between heroes and villains in the comic books which Elijah loves so dearly. But more than that it’s a depiction of two men whose lives haven’t been easy or gone so smooth. Yet each turned out to be completely different despite coming up against adversity. Two ends of the spectrum.
Then the representation and symbolism to which Shyamalan attaches them is impressive writing. The fact we see Elijah primarily through reflections in mirrors and a television screen is telling. Later, we see him through reflections in his gallery. His identity is fragmented. In opposition, David is shown enduring physical crises, or experimenting with his power (see: weights in the basement with Joseph), his strength personified by physicality and supposed invincibility. His life, from his body to his pride, is defined through strength, through heroism.
Elijah: “It‘s all right to be afraid, David, because this part won‘t be like a comic book. Real life doesn‘t fit into little boxes that were drawn for it.”
Shyamalan’s film is perfectly shot. Each frame is downright marvelous. The composition of shots brings to life the panels of comic books, the movement of the camera takes us along with the characters as if through the panels and pages of a graphic novel. There are moments it’s less subtle, then at other points there are clear, though amazing, instances of the comic book treatment. While Shyamalan uses colours specifically in a lot of his pictures, Unbreakable has a faded, washed out sort of palette overall. Then he takes bright colours and uses them to signify points worth watching. Especially the colour red, which helps us track David Dunn’s sense of heroic vision. Certain shots call to mind the visually lyrical style of the comic world. For instance, when young Elijah receives a comic from his mother, the camera starts as we look at the book upside down and whirl around in a 360 before leveling out to see it right side up. My favourite: later in the film when David is in the house moving towards outside he appears through the drapes, closer and closer, just like a row of panel moving from one to the next. He’s even dressed almost constantly in hooded/caped rainwear, particularly during his job and then when he’s in the house with the hostage family later. There’s no cartoon-ish sense of comics here. Shyamalan brings the superhero world to real life, as best as he can. The mythic figures of the comic universe are no longer Greek god-like figures. Here, they become human, living souls with full lives, made up of the good and the bad. Unbreakable allows us to examine what those true-to-life heroes might look like.
Not everyone will see any film the same way. You can’t ever find a universal opinion on one movie, and you also cannot ever find a subjective opinion on a film. But to me, Unbreakable is one of the greats. It is a genuine masterpiece. There are so many things about it I love. Jackson is incredible. As is Willis, no matter what some say of his performance – he played a man dealing with something extraordinary, supernatural almost, and rightfully seems shocked or devastated in some way most of the time. They’re excellent together. Plus, Shyamalan does wonderful things here as director, which proves he has the chops; everybody makes a wrong step in their profession, at one time or another, so give him a break. A few of his movies are already classics. He’s a talented guy who can bring forth a lot of interesting themes through his writing, giving them life on film. This is one of those movies where he gives us a new way of looking at a subject, which just so happens to be darkly exciting, odd, and exciting at once.
Django Unchained. 2012. Directed & Written by Quentin Tarantino.
Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, James Remar, David Steen, Dennis Christopher, Don Johnson, Franco Nero, Bruce Dern, M.C. Gainey, Jonah Hill, Tom Wopat, Don Stroud, Russ Tamblyn, Amber Tamblyn, and Tom Savini.
The Weinstein Company/Columbia Pictures.
Rated 18A. 165 minutes.
Recently I saw The Hateful Eight. Taking a step back in time, in that same universe, I went back to Quentin Tarantino’s brutally honest, raw Western (or “Southern” as he likes to call it), Django Unchained. Sometimes I actually forget how good Tarantino is. To me, he’ll always be a truly great director. A master, in fact. My favourite film of his is still, and always will be, the adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch that Tarantino did, Jackie Brown.
But I do believe Django Unchained is one of his most impressive works out of the entire filmography. Let’s face it – there are rarely as interesting, influential and weird writers as Quentin out there. He brings that to the world of slavery and America in its former days, its worse days.
Editing by Fred Raskin, cinematography from D.P. Robert Richardson, practical effects courtesy of KNB wizards Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero (fucking legends), plus a load of other talented people, it all compounds to make Django Unchained into a great Western/Southern for the modern day confronting America’s historical race issues, specifically slavery, topped with the usual wit and style of Quentin Tarantino.
Down around Texas in 1858, a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) is being transported, along with a bunch of others like himself. Soon enough, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) shows up. He offers to buy Django, but things end up going bad. Schultz murders the men carrying the slaves, and then takes Django with him; now a free man.
With Django riding side by side with Schultz, they set out to find the Brittle brothers – whom the doctor seeks, being a bounty hunter and all. This is how Django purchases his freedom, tagging along to help track and kill a few wanted men. Perfect for the newly freed slave. He’ll have his revenge. Better yet, Schultz agrees to help Django track down and free his wife: Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington). Only problem is she belongs to the notorious slave owner Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) at the Candyland Plantation. Encountering various wild and nefarious characters, Django and Schultz work their way towards Candie with death, madness and terrifying racism always nipping at their heels in an American Southern Hell.
One thing I love about this film is the fact it boasts an incredible amount of characters. Better yet, they’re Tarantino characters. Now, for those who do not like his style, or his characters, whatever – then they’re probably not for you in general. But I dig the way he gives us characters, often not diving too deep into their backstory – especially depending on if they’re big or small characters – which sort of intrigues me. Here, it’s not simply an ensemble cast, there really is almost an entire Southern U.S. filled with characters in Django Unchained. From Big Daddy (Don Johnson) and his nasty group of pre-Klu Klux Klan bagheads, to James Remar’s awesome Western-homage double character Ace Speck/Butch Pooch, to M.C Gainey as Bible thumping hypocrite Big John Brittle and Bruce Dern as Old Man Carrucan, to a Franco Nero cameo and a tiny appearance by Walton Goggins. So many different characters occupy the space of Django Unchained. And I know that all of Tarantino’s films are ensembles, there are often a bunch of characters. It feels to me, though, this one takes the cake. It doesn’t introduce too many either, not in the sense that too many are there to be touched on. Even Jonah Hill gets in a cameo with the bagheaded mob led by Big Daddy.
Best of all are the main cast. Foxx gives Django a ton of charisma, the likes of which no other actor could’ve given him. Hands down. Sure, maybe he wasn’t Tarantino’s first choice on the list. But he makes this film what it is, without him it doesn’t matter how well Walt dances over the wonderful screenplay. There’d be no movie without Django the character, and Foxx makes it worth every last second. From the first to the last, he gives it his all. Then alongside him, Waltz impressively characterizes an odd yet charming man in Schultz – both a bounty hunter and a gentleman, a liar and a straight shooter (in more than one sense of the term). No doubt he deserve his Academy Award. He also brings to life the other half of the film. Perhaps others could have played Schultz, though, I’m hard pressed to think of anyone whose abilities rise to the level of capability required to sell this character; Waltz has a hokey-ness about him that isn’t cheesy, it works so well, it makes Schultz who he needs to be, the perfect counterpart to Django.
I can’t not mention DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie and Stephen, played by the ever fabulous Samuel L. Jackson. They both give terrific performances in two very tough roles. Again, as I said recently while reviewing The Hateful Eight, as a white man I’ll never understand how it feels watching a film about race, especially slavery, and even more so considering this one is laced with the word “nigger”. Sadly, this is historically accurate, as the mid-1800’s were a viciously racist time in many parts of America. Candie is a savage representation of the young men who were brought up on plantations, raised into the family business of their fathers, the type of person who molds himself into the best possible version of a terrible person. DiCaprio performs this despicable man in the most terrific way possible, giving his all in a role that couldn’t have been easy. Likewise, though Jackson pulls off a magnificent performance it’s a sad character – Stephen has been bent and broken by white men, turned into a true slave, less free than any of the ones in shackles even while he roams free himself. It’s a wildly entertaining role, albeit tough to watch. Can’t imagine Jackson relished playing him, but in a way it had to be exciting, bringing to life an awful piece of history.
All these people together? How can you not find the cast beyond amazing?
The conversation about Django Unchained is never complete without talking about aesthetics, from sound to cinematography to set design to effects. I won’t bore you too long. Although, certain names need mentioning.
In particular, there’s editor Fred Raskin. His other work as editor includes the recent (and fantastic) Western-horror Bone Tomahawk, Guardians of the Galaxy and others, plus he worked in various editorial positions on films like Tarantino’s Kill Bill films, Punch-Drunk Love, Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia remake, Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, and much more. His editing shows greatly in this one. There are times the way scenes are cut from one to the next are very Tarantino-esque, others it’s typical Western, and some are just odd; it all works. There’s a reason Raskin and Tarantino have worked together several times now. They compliment one another. Bad editing can really kill a movie, and fortunately this one is done well.
Another Tarantino regular, cinematographer Robert Richardson, makes the look of Django Unchained so slick and beautiful. Each sequence is almost done in its own style, but always captured crisply by Richardson. His eye brings to life all the colours of the South, the costumes and the set design all look so vivid under the care of Richardson as director of photography. Many great films have been captured under this guy’s lens from work by Scorsese to Stone. This is but one of those titles.
Full stop, a 5-star film. This is one of my favourites out of the Quentin Tarantino collection thus far, but still doesn’t top Jackie Brown for me. Either way, an amazing movie. It takes on a period of history many Americans would sooner forget. Instead, Tarantino’s whipsmart screenplay goes head-on at all the ugliness. At times it may be tough to digest. Although, the actors take each character and breathe into them a wild amount of life. Everything here is working on all cylinders, from the writing to the acting, to the wonderful aesthetics brought out by all the artists on the production. I cannot recommend this enough. To the naysayers: let them keep naysaying. This is a destined-to-be classic in the Western genre, though it takes place in the South. I’ll always love this movie. When it first came out I saw it several times in the first couple weeks. Can never get enough of Tarantino.
The Hateful Eight. 2015. Directed & Written by Quentin Tarantino.
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, James Parks, Dana Gourrier, Zoë Bell, and Gene Jones. The Weinstein Company.
Rated 18A. 187 minutes.
For me, when I first got interested in film Quentin Tarantino was sort of the guy whose movies everyone talked about. Pulp Fiction was out a couple years before I saw it, then I went back to watch Reservoir Dogs, which blew me away almost even more. Later on I came to love Jackie Brown most of all his work. But Tarantino continually pumps out solid movies, his writing is consistently interesting and full of his charisma. And you can give me all the “Tarantino steals” nonsense you want, ain’t gonna change my mind, gals and goons! Heard it all before. To me, Quentin is the ultimate film lover. Someone I understand. As a fellow cinephile, I see him as a master of the homage and a connoisseur of the world of movies.
The Hateful Eight sees him a little ways down the road from the world of Django Unchained, directing a film filled with exciting Western charm and boasting an interesting ensemble cast with standout performances by Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Samuel L. Jackson. I’ve seen plenty of other reviews with their nitpicks, their bore with Tarantino’s style. Not me. I loved it. Let me tell you why.
As a white man, I can’t tell you how it feels for black men and women to watch this or Django Unchained. The word ‘nigger’ only gets used about half as much in this film as it does in Django, but god damn if it isn’t a lot. Now, at the same time, this is set in an era just after the end of the American Civil War; a bloody, heated time in U.S. history. Naturally, there were many, many people out there dropping that word on black people ALL THE TIME. I’m not saying it has to be like that on film, but isn’t a huge part of the story about Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and his feelings about being black in a hellish white world? Come to think of it, isn’t a blizzard such a great metaphor for the type of white trouble at which Marquis finds himself the center? So naturally in an honest, brutal film tackling some racist issues, we’re going to hear the word. Again, I can’t possibly understand how it is for black people when they watch this.
My feeling is this – without spoiling anything for those who’ve yet to see it, The Hateful Eight wraps mystery around a main plot, while we also end up with Major Marquis getting trapped at Minnie’s Haberdashery with guys like Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), an avowed racist who served in his father’s small but hateful troops, and also the older much more sternly racist former Confederate General Sanford “Sandy” Smithers (Bruce Dern). So a good portion of what happens has to do with Warren and his confrontation with these racists in such close quarters. In fact, we find out Warren and Sanders fought at a battle in Baton Rouge, so it’s almost more intimate with them stuck in a cabin during a raging blizzard than they ever got on the battlefield. I understand it can’t be easy for anyone black to hear the word ‘nigger’.
Although, here’s to hoping bits of Major Marquis and his story help to patch those wounds. He is a great character, a strong, intelligent black man in a vicious time. Jackson plays him to perfection, which is no surprise. A role clearly written with him in mind, but in the best way possible. Lots of typical Samuel L., and at the same time there are extremely subtle moments where his small gestures and pensive attitude make things interesting, as well as tense. Great character, great performance.
Speaking of performances, both Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh complete an excellent triple threat of actors at the forefront of The Hateful Eight. Leigh is one of the few women in the movie, but is in the middle of every last portion. Her character is wild, outspoken, she is a woman in a man’s world. Not only is she feisty, she’s tough as hell. Daisy Domergue, Leigh’s character, takes a beating from start to finish, in so many ways. Brutal at times to see a woman receive such violence; then again, Daisy happens to be a murderer. Either way, Leigh was the perfect fit for this role. A mixture of genuine crazy, humour, and plenty of strength.
Perhaps my favourite in the film, even above the amazing performances of Jackson and Leigh, is Kurt Russell as John “The Hangman” Ruth. Everything from his miraculously beautiful facial hair, fitting in with the period piece, to the delivery of his lines, his screen presence. He fills the frame, even when he’s only taking up a third of it. Russell’s a solid actor who brings his talents to The Hateful Eight, in a role that could’ve easily been played by others. Though, no one else would have brought what Russell did. The Hangman is a fun character, he’s a laugh at times, but don’t fuck with him. Russell and Leigh have incredible chemistry, plus he and Jackson do, too.
As an ensemble you’d be hard pressed to find many films rivaling the performance in this one. Tarantino usually brings together an interesting collective on each of his productions. This may be favourite, honestly. Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Demián Bichir who was lots of fun. Above anyone else, I have to say Walton Goggins knocks the character of Mannix out the park. I’ve loved him since The Shield. Here, he takes his career to another level. Difficult character to tackle, but when he and Samuel L. Jackson share the screen at various points it is true gold. Great casting, even better performance from Goggins whose abilities are on display over and over here.
The look of the film is magnificent. Cinematographer Robert Richardson has done a TON of amazing work, from Oliver Stone’s Salvador and Platoon, as well as Natural Born Killers and the criminally under appreciated Nixon, the fascinatingly weird U Turn to work with Scorsese on Casino and Bringing Out the Dead and later The Aviator, Shutter Island and Hugo. He’s worked with Tarantino already on Kill Bill and Django Unchained.
Richardson brings his brilliant eye to The Hateful Eight making the Wyoming winter come to us in vivid white, the stark mountains sitting among it all, capturing the characters and the stagecoach at the start with such a raw beauty. Then after Tarantino’s tight screenplay moves into the cabin of Minnie’s Haberdashery, the way Richardson brings to life the spirit of the Western all while staying within those four walls, rarely stepping back outside at all, it’s genuine cinematic magic. Love the way everything looks and feels.
Add to that Ennio Morricone’s score, and things become classic. There is plenty of that good old Western feel we expect to come from Morricone, then there are bits and pieces of other scores he’s done – for instance, parts from Exorcist II are dropped in, as well as unused score Morricone did for John Carpenter’s The Thing (which Tarantino admittedly modeled this film after). Even further, Morricone gives us these foreboding pieces that rock us, right from the beginning as the stagecoach toughs through the Wyoming wilderness, a half snow covered Jesus on the cross at the fore of the shot, right in our faces. Plenty of great moments where Morricone’s music lifts Tarantino to that otherworldly place many classic Westerns now exist.
A 5-star film. At three hours and seven minutes, The Hateful Eight was fun from beginning to end. There were parts I expected, which were still great, and others I did not expect, even greater. Quentin Tarantino brings to life a universe he similarly existed in with his last film, only this time a little past the Civil War and the end of slavery. Though, as we see and know already slavery was almost only the beginning of America’s race issues and thoroughly awful problems. With a bunch of stellar performances, the characters of Tarantino come alive in their own ways, each with their particular quirks and personalities. Further than that, the way this story ends up is surprising, and extremely enjoyable. With all the talk of race in the U.S. today, especially with a rash of terrible killings by the police in America this past year or more, The Hateful Eight may or may not have things to say; you’ll have to ask a smarter, more qualified person than myself, an African American man or woman who knows what it’s like to be black in America, as Major Marquis does.
Nevertheless, I loved this movie. I’ll see it again, maybe in theatre. Definitely snatching this up on Blu ray when it’s released, adding to my complete collection of Tarantino directed and written films. See it on the big screen – the visuals and the sound are out of this world.
Avengers: Age of Ultron. 2015. Directed & Written by Joss Whedon; based on the Marvel comics by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee.
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Linda Cardellini, Stellan Skarsgård, Claudia Kim, Thomas Kretschmann, Andy Serkis, Julie Delpy, and Stan Lee. Marvel Studios. Rated PG. 141 minutes. Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi
I’ll start off by saying, for those might doubt my allegiance, when I was growing up I absolutely loved comics. For me, I was always a huge X-Men fan, not particularly a lover of The Avengers. But still, I’ve always been into comics and lots of the characters. Even Thor himself I’ve enjoyed, just never been big on Iron Man/Tony Stark or The Avengers team. Separately from the group, as individuals I do like a lot of the characters. For instance, I think the concepts behind both Hulk and Captain American SO INTERESTING – for Hulk it’s this incredible duality between man and the beast within, ever since Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde this has been explored and I think in the comics this pans out to something even more fun; in Cap’s case, I think that idea of the “perfect American”, that ultimate patriot, is another compelling idea because it entails everything we want to believe in soldiers, that we want them to be this perfect warrior and patriot yet underneath they are STILL human, just like Steve Rogers underneath all the Captain America experimentation.
So when I say that I’m not really huge on either of The Avengers films, maybe you can chalk that up to me not being a fan of them in general. However, I can absolutely admit when there’s a good film, whether or not I’m into the source material.
For me, I just don’t get enough heart. Not saying there’s no emotion, not at all; there is plenty. What I mean is that there feels like, beneath the CGI and the star powered cast, there is ultimately nothing much going on. While the action sequences are wild, the inner headspace of some characters get explored, but in the end there’s nothing hugely impressive to me which puts this above any other blockbuster in the summertime.
Avengers: Age of Ultron has a lot going on. This is one of my first real problems with the film. When I first sat down to see this, I knew it would be long, but when I learned it was near two and a half hours the urge to leave struck. But I’m not afraid of a long movie, there are plenty of films I enjoy that run well past two hours (The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, & those are just the classic ones). It’s just that, personally I can’t see how a near two and a half hour movie is necessary. Sure, there are lots of characters in here – The Avengers alone are too many to flesh out in a regular length film – but is there really any need for such length?
There’s a great part to this movie, which is that we get to see more of who The Avengers themselves are, as individuals. That’s something I do love because like I said in the beginning, it’s most the characters individually I like rather than the team as a whole.
And still, I think there could’ve been about 20 minutes yanked out of this screenplay without really hurting any of the character development, or the plot for that matter. I get it – there’s tension between the team, between certain members, even within themselves. There’s just no world in which I can see myself agreeing with the need for a two and a half hour Marvel movie. The complexity is there to work with, no doubt. Not enough to justify the length, though.
My other big beef with these Marvel movies, this one especially seeing as how I’ve watched it recently, is the fact everything is so drenched in CGI. I absolutely understand that a lot of what happens in these comic book stories WILL NEED CGI. Totally understandable. In opposition, even if you don’t like Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises, you have to at least give Nolan the benefit of agreeing that he attempted to use practical effects wherever possible. Even with The Dark Knight, you actually get to see Bale as Batman on the edge of an insanely tall building, and other shots such as this; of course it’s not ALL practical, not even close, but there’s still effort to try and ground SOME of the movie in a tangible world.
With Age of Ultron, there’s scene after scene of CGI madness, over and over. In between there are wonderful little scenes between actors, just straight up good writing/dialogue and story. Most of the time, however, Joss Whedon is just giving us a CGI show, everything is green-screened and any real, visceral emotion simply gets taken out of it. I think there’s definitely enough on the brainy sides of things – love the plot of this story Whedon gives us out of the comics – but to go with that there’s nothing here drawing me in, making me feel those emotions Whedon injects into his script, nothing hooking me other than “Wow that looked cool” or “Robot James Spader is wild”, or “LOOK AT ALL THOSE BUILDINGS AND CARS AND OTHER THINGS GETTING SMASHED”, or “Ooh pretty laser… ooh pretty laser… ooh pretty laser.”
I’m not saying I want the quote-unquote gritty version that everyone seems to crave after Nolan’s Batman. Frankly, I’m sick and tired of it all. Because in the end, so much of it is ultimately superheroes just flying around, beating each other up, with the tiniest bits of human drama and emotion peppered in for a scant flavour. That’s AWESOME if you’re a kid, or maybe if that’s your style – I don’t mean to knock you. For me, I need something more than Whedon and his Avengers seem capable of serving up.
While I don’t like this movie, not in the slightest really other than a casual admiration for the technical work and some of Joss Whedon’s screenplay, I’ll give it 2 out of 5 stars on those aspects alone. I cannot deny AT ALL that Age of Ultron is a technical marvel (see what I did there?). There’s a great deal of effort in so many areas which went into the making of this huge blockbuster film. I bet there are plenty, millions, of people out there who downright loved this! No doubt in my mind.
For me, and for others I’m sure, the amount of CGI smashing together and flashing all over the screen during most scenes throughout the enormously bloated runtime isn’t all that exciting. Visually there’s a feast of things to look at, but not a feast I’m starving for really. I like to see some interesting set pieces, costumes, effects as much as the next filmgoer. On the contrary, I like to see practical effects, and above all I like an emotional story that can entertain you with a bit of thoughtfulness while also sucking you into its intensity. Age of Ultron is, for me, too big and bright and it has no solid core. There are a TON of amazing actors here – I’m particularly a big fan of Mark Ruffalo and Paul Bettany – I just don’t think there’s enough time individually for any of them to make a real impressive impact.
See it and judge for yourself. I’m no one to listen to, surely. Objectively, I can’t agree that this is a great film. It’s mediocre at best, served up as near to the lowest common denominator of movies – a mindless bit of action. But whereas some action films get into you viscerally, put you right in the seat of the heroes matching up against the villains, there’s none of that here, in my opinion. Joss Whedon is a good writer and director, I’d rather see him take something else on other than his childhood love for comics. Might be great for some. Me? I’m worn out. As a lover of comics when I grew up, it’s still too saturated a market for me nowadays when it comes to superheroes, and it’s all the same as this: big, loud, flashing bright, but only to mask there’s nothing other than that to offer. Even further there’s the fact the Marvel movies always end the same way – heroes win, bad guys lose, another day they’ll find more bad guys to fight. You know from the get everyone will be alive at the end, no lives will be lost. Starting to get tedious, if you ask me. Maybe if the next Marvel film opts to kill off a big character, not for novelty but for a well-written reason in Whedon’s screenplay, then I’d be more inclined to take it in (this one doesn’t count because the ‘big’ character who dies in this one isn’t around long enough for me to or anyone to really care about).
Otherwise, it’s the same routine, over and over, where you don’t really have to ever worry because your favourites will ALL BE SAFE AND SOUND. No tears.