Blu Tuesday: The Hateful Eight and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“The Hateful Eight”

WHAT: In post-Civil War Wyoming, renowned bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) is forced to take shelter at a haberdashery in the mountains when a blizzard prevents him from transporting wanted murder Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock. Trapped in a room with six other strangers he doesn’t trust – at least one of whom he believes is in cahoots with Daisy – John must uncover the mole before they make their move.

WHY: Quentin Tarantino’s first crack at making a Western may have resulted in the slightly disappointing “Django Unchained,” but his second attempt is a much-improved genre piece that represents his most accomplished work behind the camera to date. While Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Walton Goggins all deliver excellent work, Samuel L. Jackson’s show-stopping turn is the real standout, chewing up scenery with every juicy monologue and sly look. Granted, the first half of the film moves like molasses as Tarantino gets all of his pieces on the board, but the pacing is intentional, slowly building to a boil that spills out into a flurry of violence in the final hour. Though “The Hateful Eight” is filled with the same self-indulgent tendencies that fans have come to expect from the director’s movies, this Agatha Christie-styled whodunit is a lot of fun thanks to a smartly crafted script, some outstanding camerawork that benefits from the 65mm film format, and riotous performances from the cast.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a short behind-the-scenes featurette and a closer look at the movie’s 70mm presentation.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Concussion”

WHAT: When Nigerian-born pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) uncovers the truth about brain damage in football players who have suffered repeated concussions, he publishes his findings in the hope that it will help save lives. However, the NFL sees Omalu as a threat to its multibillion-dollar industry and attempts to discredit him.

WHY: Much like writer/director Peter Landesman’s previous films (“Kill the Messenger,” “Parkland”), “Concussion” is a middling, fact-based story that feels disconnected from its own material. While the movie is about a fairly important event in modern medicine – the discovery and recognition of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) as a very real problem within the sport of football – it’s told in such a dull, straightforward manner that its message doesn’t resonate. Will Smith delivers his best work in over a decade as the real-life Omalu, completely throwing himself into the role, but the rest of the cast isn’t given as much to work with, particularly Gugu Mbatha-Raw, whose talents are squandered as his wife. The whole thing feels more like a TV movie due to the pedestrian writing and direction, and although it’s worth seeing for Smith’s passionate performance, “Concussion” isn’t compelling enough to incite the kind of reform within the NFL (and the sport as a whole) that’s desperately needed.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Peter Landesman, a pair of featurettes on making the movie and the true story that inspired it, and deleted scenes.

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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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