Movie Review: “The Hateful Eight”

Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Demian Bichir, Jeff Parks
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: “Kingsman: The Secret Service”

Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Sofia Boutella, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson
Matthew Vaughn

After subverting the superhero genre with “Kick-Ass,” the creative team behind that film (director Matthew Vaughn, co-writer Jane Goldman and comic book writer Mark Millar) has returned with an equally over-the-top homage to spy movies. Developed separately from the Millar-penned comic on which it’s loosely based, Vaughn’s film improves on that version in just about every way, delivering a smarter (but no less absurd) take on Cold War-era spy movies that embraces as many genre conventions as it breaks. A mix of the old and new school, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a lot cooler than its clunky title might imply – a hyper-stylized, gratuitously explicit action film that would make James Bond blush. After all, this is a movie that cartoonishly blows up Barack Obama’s head without even blinking.

The movie opens 17 years earlier when, while on a mission in the Middle East, secret agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is unable to prevent the death of a fellow agent. Feeling personally responsible, he visits the man’s wife (Samantha Womack) and young son, Eggsy, giving them a medal with a special phone number on the back should they ever need a favor. Fast-forward to present day and Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has grown up to become a lower-class delinquent who’s wasted his incredible potential. When Eggsy gets in trouble with the law, Harry bails him out, eventually recruiting him as a candidate for the same secret agency his father worked for, the Kingsmen, an independent organization of highly-trained agents who put their lives on the line to protect the world. While Eggsy undergoes the ultra-competitive training program (with only one recruit earning a spot as a Kingsman), Harry investigates a potential threat involving a tech-genius billionaire named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) who wants to save the Earth from the dangerous effects of climate change by wiping out most of humanity.

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Movie Review: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford
Anthony & Joe Russo

There’s been a lot of talk about comic book movie fatigue these days, but the people at Marvel Studios clearly aren’t letting that affect their productivity, because just like fellow Disney-owned company Pixar, they’ve continued to deliver the same high-quality films as when they started. Granted, it’s only a matter of time before Marvel’s unblemished track record is ruined by a “Cars 2,” but “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is not that movie. In fact, it’s a major improvement upon the character’s first solo adventure, trading in the period war setting for an old-school conspiracy thriller that addresses real-world issues like national security. It also has some really cool action beats, occasional bits of humor, and perhaps most importantly, a better storyline for its titular hero.

Since being thawed from his icy slumber and aiding in the defense of New York in “The Avengers,” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) has become a full-fledged member of S.H.I.E.L.D, but he’s still learning to adapt to the modern world and the questionable methods that Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) employs to ensure that it remains safe. When S.H.I.E.L.D. becomes compromised by people within the organization, however, Steve is forced to go on the run alongside fellow operative Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), in order to smoke out the traitors and stop them from assuming control of a secret fleet of aircraft carriers designed to eliminate threats before they happen. Standing in their way is a super-powered, metal-armed assassin called the Winter Soldier who looks suspiciously like someone from Steve’s past.

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Movie Review: “Turbo”

Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Pena, Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Hader, Richard Jenkins, Ken Jeong, Snoop Dogg
David Soren

If you sit and think about “Turbo” for even half a second, it’s difficult not to notice what’s wrong with it, from the formulaic story to its blatant disregard for the rules of auto racing (spoken by a man who doesn’t follow auto racing; that’s how egregious the oversights were). Luckily for the film, it has several other things working in its favor, namely some inspired voice casting, gorgeous design, and smarter than average dialogue. “Turbo” rises above its familiarity and makes for a charming, if predictable, experience.

Theo (Ryan Reynolds) is a snail who, along with his brother Chet (Paul Giamatti), works in the garden outside a suburban southern California house. At night, Theo watches video tapes of race car driver Guy Gagne (Bill Hader), and dreams of being fast like him, a racer named Turbo. One night, while watching the cars on the 101 from an overpass, Theo inadvertently winds up taking part in a street race and ingesting nitrous oxide, which rewrites his DNA and gives him incredible speed. (Warning to children: drinking nitrous oxide will not give you superhuman speed. If anything, it will put you to sleep.) Soon after, Theo and Chet are captured by Tito (Michael Pena), who co-owns a taco truck in a run-down strip mall, and races snails for fun with his fellow mall employees. Once they realize that Theo is actually fast, Tito begins raising money to enter him into the Indianapolis 500, and his new crew of racing snail buddies, led by Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson), provides support.

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“Pulp Fiction” Blu-ray is better than a $5 milkshake

Is “Pulp Fiction” the greatest movie of the 1990s? That seems to be a popular talking point on the eve of the film’s Blu-ray release, with everyone from Entertainment Weekly to star John Travolta (on one of the disc’s new special features) making their case for the argument. Whether or not you agree doesn’t really matter, because Quentin Tarantino’s sophomore effort is definitely up there among the best, which only makes the film’s numerous snubs at the 1995 Academy Awards (particularly for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor) seem even more egregious nearly two decades later.

Though I thought about putting together a list of my five favorite scenes from the film in celebration of the Blu-ray release, I quickly realized that there were far too many great moments to choose from to settle on just five. The movie was already pretty close to perfect when I first saw it on DVD as a teenager, and it’s even closer to perfection now after receiving the Blu-ray treatment. It’s sometimes easy to forget how much a good high definition video transfer can do for a film’s presentation, but the director-approved HD transfer on “Pulp Fiction” is absolutely stunning. And yet, while the movie looks better than ever, the disc’s brand new special features are the real standout additions.

The first featurette, “Not the Usual Boring Getting to Know You Chit Chat,” is a 43-minute retrospective that includes interviews from several key cast members about everything from getting involved in the project, to production, to the Cannes premiere and the film’s subsequent success. While there are a few notable absences from the list of participants (like Tarantino, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames), it’s still loaded with tons of interesting facts about making the film. Travolta and Jackson are particularly enlightening, with the former revealing that he was initially pitched the lead role in “From Dusk ‘Til Dawn” before landing the part of Vincent (a role originally given to Michael Madsen) and the latter telling a funny anecdote about the history behind Jules’ Jheri-curled wig.

The other featurette is a film critic roundtable moderated by Elvis Mitchell entitled “Here Are Some Facts on the Fiction” that, while not as revealing as the retrospective, offers up an engaging conversation about each critic’s first experience seeing “Pulp Fiction” and their thoughts about the movie. It’s especially fascinating to listen to Stephanie Zacharek discuss her love/hate relationship with the film, as it appears to take the other critics (all of whom regard it as a modern masterpiece) by surprise. That doesn’t exactly make the debate over whether “Pulp Fiction” is the best movie of the ‘90s any easier to settle, but then again, the question itself is ultimately more important than the answer.


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