Movie Review: “The Hateful Eight”

Starring
Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Demian Bichir, Jeff Parks
Director
Quentin Tarantino

It’s crazy to think that “The Hateful Eight” almost never happened, but after Quentin Tarantino furiously shelved the project following the leak of his unfinished script, cooler heads eventually prevailed. Though the writer/director’s first crack at making a Western resulted in the slightly disappointing “Django Unchained,” Tarantino’s second attempt is a much-improved genre piece that represents his most accomplished work behind the camera to date. “The Hateful Eight” is filled with the same self-indulgent tendencies that fans have come to expect from his movies, but while it doesn’t exactly earn its three-hour runtime, this Agatha Christie-styled whodunit is a lot of fun thanks to a smartly crafted script and riotous performances from its ensemble cast.

Set in post-Civil War Wyoming, the film stars Kurt Russell as John “The Hangman” Ruth, a well-known bounty hunter who earned his nickname as the only one in his trade who actually bothers bringing fugitives in alive to be hanged for their crimes. John is in the process of transporting wanted murderer Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock to collect the $10,000 bounty on her head when a blizzard forces them to take shelter at Minnie’s Haberdashery in the mountains, where he finds himself trapped in a room with six other strangers he doesn’t trust. In fact, John is confident that at least one of them is in cahoots with Daisy, and he’s determined to figure out who it is before they make their move.

In addition to the two stranded men he comes across on his way to Minnie’s – Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a Union soldier turned fellow bounty hunter, and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a Southern rebel who claims that he’s the new sheriff of Red Rock – John’s list of suspects includes local hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), mysterious cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), Confederate general Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern) and a Mexican named Bob (Demian Bichir) who’s looking after the trading post while its owners are away. Confined to the cabin until the storm passes, paranoia begins to set in among the eight strangers as identities and motivations are questioned, secrets are revealed and blood is spilled.

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Movie Review: “Sisters”

Starring
Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Ike Barinholtz, Maya Rudolph, James Brolin, Dianne Wiest, Bobby Moynihan, John Cena
Director
Jason Moore

For two actresses with such undeniable chemistry, it’s downright criminal that it’s been seven years since “Saturday Night Live” alumni Tina Fey and Amy Poehler last made a film. That film, 2008’s “Baby Mama,” was cute, but it was also terribly safe. Their new film “Sisters,” meanwhile, is quite possibly the most profane female-driven movie ever made, an apology of sorts for “Baby Mama.” The story also allows Poehler and Fey the ability to play themselves as well as each other, like a raunch-com version of “Face/Off.” As ridiculous as that sounds, it works incredibly well.

Kate Ellis (Fey) is in a bad way. Living on a near-stranger’s couch, her own daughter Haley (Madison Davenport) doesn’t even want to spend time with her. Kate’s saintly sister Maura (Poehler) is divorced, and basically hiding from the world. Kate and Maura’s parents (James Brolin and Dianne Weist) tell Maura that they’re selling the Orlando home they grew up in, and Kate and Maura decide to throw one last party, only Maura guilts wild child Kate to be the designated sober house mommy after Maura meets cute with new neighbor James (Ike Barinholtz). When they get to the house, they discover that it’s already been sold to an insufferable young couple (though they haven’t moved in), but that only strengthens their resolve to throw the party. The party begins as a wake (literally) but turns into a rager, and as it continues into the night, new information comes to light that causes Kate and Maura to rethink both the party and each other.

It was very smart to have Fey and Poehler go against type here. Think of Fey in “Mean Girls” as the straight-laced Precalculus teacher, and then think of Poehler as the “cool mom,” who lets her pre-tween daughter watch “Girls Gone Wild.” The script here is not exactly flipped, but it is mixed up. Maura is impossibly sensible, and until now has never let loose once in her life. Kate is a hothead who always has a reason for why she’s never to blame. In a nutshell, both women made it impossible for anyone to typecast them from here on.

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Movie Review: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Starring
Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis
Director
J.J. Abrams

Resurrect a beloved name and attempt to relaunch a franchise? No sweat. Extreme pressure was riding on co-writer/director J.J. Abrams’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Expectations are more than high for the film, and while this sequel doesn’t quite recapture the glory of the old days, if often comes very close.

“The Force Awakens” is both a retread and a callback to “A New Hope.” Rey (Daisey Ridley) follows in the footsteps of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill): she’s an orphaned scavenger on a desert planet, Jakku, and she’s torn between her home and exploring the galaxy. Her life changes when she meets the adorable BB-8, a droid hiding a secret for the best damn Resistance pilot in the sky, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). A conflicted Stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) crosses paths with both Poe and Rey, but most of “The Force Awakens” is about those two, as well as the pair of recognizable faces they team up with along the way: Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew).

Even before Han and Chewie appear – and what a wonderful reveal it is – “The Force Awakens” is undeniably a “Star Wars” movie. The film recaptures the spirit of the original trilogy, as it should. The tangible environments, practical creatures and stakes are “Star Wars” through and through, but more than that, it’s the sense of joy, pain and adventure that Abrams and his co-writers, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, bring to this sequel that makes it “Star Wars.” This series has always been about friendship and family, and “The Force Awakens” doesn’t forget that, even if some of the relationships aren’t very well defined.

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Movie Review: “In the Heart of the Sea”

Starring
Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Tom Holland, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw
Director
Ron Howard

Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” might be one of the most boring literary classics ever published, yet that hasn’t stopped Hollywood from going back to the source material time and time again. Though Ron Howard’s “In the Heart of the Sea” technically isn’t an adaptation of “Moby Dick,” it is based on the non-fiction book by Nathaniel Philbrick about the real-life events that inspired Melville’s seafaring adventure. Sadly, that doesn’t make it any less dull. A well-intentioned cross between the nautical drama of “Master and Commander” and the against-all-odds survival elements of “Unbroken,” “In the Heart of the Sea” is an instantly forgettable movie that completely wastes the talents of Howard and his cast.

The year is 1850, and author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) has traveled to Nantucket to visit Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), the last surviving crew member of the Essex whaling ship, to find out if the rumors that it was capsized by a giant sperm whale 30 years earlier are true. Melville hopes to use the story as inspiration for his next novel, and although Nickerson is hesitant about disclosing any details of the harrowing event, he reluctantly agrees when his wife (an underused Michelle Fairley) reminds him that they desperately need the money Melville has offered in exchange for his time.

Curiously, the focus of Nickerson’s tale isn’t himself, but rather Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), a master whaler assigned to serve as the first mate on the Essex’s upcoming voyage under the leadership of the less experienced Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), who hasn’t earned his position through hard work like Chase, but through family ties to the whaling company that controls most of Nantucket’s economy. Though the two men immediately butt heads, particularly after Pollard’s rash decision to sail directly into a storm nearly gets the entire crew killed, they have much bigger problems to worry about when they find their usual hunting waters devoid of whales. Upon hearing gossip of large herds for the taking off the coast of South America, the Essex crew sails into uncharted waters in search of glory, only to encounter a mammoth, alabaster sperm whale that destroys their vessel, leaving the men stranded at sea in a struggle for survival.

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Movie Review: “The Big Short”

Starring
Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, John Magaro, Finn Wittrock, Marisa Tomei
Director
Adam McKay

The housing market crash of 2008 was no joke, which is why it might come as somewhat of a surprise that “The Big Short” is directed by the same man responsible for goofball comedies like “Anchorman,” “Step Brothers” and “Talladega Nights.” Though Adam McKay isn’t the first person you’d think of to direct a (mostly) serious movie about the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, he’s clearly passionate about the material – both the real-life events and the book on which the film is based – because it shows in the final product. “The Big Short” isn’t quite as hard-hitting as J.C. Chandor’s “Margin Call,” the underseen 2011 drama that offers a different perspective of the same events, but it’s a nonetheless effective examination of a nationwide disaster so ridiculous that it’s difficult not to laugh.

Adapted from “Moneyball” author Michael Lewis’ bestselling book of the same name, “The Big Short” follows a group of investment bankers through the years 2005-2008 as they predicted what many thought was impossible – the always-sturdy housing market collapsing – and then did the unthinkable by betting against (or shorting) the big banks to profit off their greed. The first to make his move is financial guru Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a socially awkward hedge fund manager who discovers a worrying pattern in defaulted subprime mortgages (which make up the mortgage bonds that the banks trade on) and invests more than a billion dollars of his investors’ money into credit default swaps, i.e. insurance against the failure of those bonds, which didn’t even exist at the time.

Everyone on Wall Street thinks he’s crazy, except for hotshot Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who sees a potential gold mine in Burry’s theory and convinces short-tempered, nihilistic hedge funder Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his tight-knit team (Jeremy Strong, Rafe Spall and Hamish Linklater) to go into business with him, despite the fact that Mark hates everything that guys like Jared stand for. Word of Vennett’s proposal also reaches small-time investors Charles Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock), who request help from their mentor, former banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), in getting them a seat at the big boys table.

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