Synopsis: For siblings Kip and Josie, dealing opioids isn’t just their family business — it’s their only means of survival. When a deal goes fatally wrong, Kip decides he wants out for good. But his attempt to escape his family’s legacy soon ignites a powder keg of violence and betrayal, endangering Kip, Josie and their younger brother.
Review: I’d imagine had Inherit the Viper been released 10 or 15 years ago it may have been received a tiny bit better than it does in 2020 when its dark tale of an already fragile family dynamic torn apart by drugs feels more than a little also-ran. It’s hard to watch the movie and not think of the countless other television series, true-crime documentaries, and other analogous indie films that have covered the same dingy terrain and done it better. That’s not to say there isn’t room for other stories with similar themes to be told but there has to be something that sets it apart from its genre siblings and Inherit the Viper sadly doesn’t have anything fresh or revealing to add.
Things don’t get more cookie-cutter than the elements that make up the setting, players, and plot of the film, scripted by Andrew Crabtree and directed by Anthony Jerjen. In the Appalachian mountain area (think West Virginia, because if one movie about the opioid crisis is set there, they all have to be), a family that has grown up in the shadow of their father’s drug trafficking have continued the family business to keep themselves afloat. Kip (Josh Hartnett, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later) is beginning to grow wary of the dangers that come with the territory, having decided to settle down with his pregnant girlfriend (Valorie Curry, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2). That doesn’t sit too well with his hard-nosed sister Josie (Margarita Levieva, The Diary of a Teenage Girl) or their younger brother Boots (Owen Teague, Mary) who has just returned home after a long absence.
As Kip is planning his exit, Josie and Boots are just getting started thinking of making their individual moves to the next level, each for their own personal reasons. Unable to get close to anyone to have a family of her own, Josie is carrying on an affair with the married local lawman (Dash Mihok, Silver Linings Playbook), partly as an unspoken pact for him to look the other way. Never accomplishing anything on his own, Boots struggles to escape the impression he rides the coattails of his siblings and family name by entering into a risky deal that puts his family and his life at risk. A series of unfortunate events affecting the siblings set into motion decisions that will force them to question how strong their family ties are.
While this sounds like the makings of a film with some grit, Jerjen’s direction doesn’t have any momentum to it so it just sort of lays there and refuses to build up to anything substantial. Even an ending that Crabtree intends as eye-opening lands with the smallest of bangs because up until that point we’ve cared so little about the characters it’s hard to muster up much emotion for what happens next in their lives. On the good side, Hartnett and Levieva feel like they are giving the kind of performances that should be in a movie with a better script while the puzzling appearance by Bruce Dern (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood) as a crusty bar owner feels like a phoned in favor.
Blessedly short at 90 minutes, it feels longer due to the slow pacing and development. The long and the short of it is that there simply isn’t enough to the plot to warrant a feature length film. Had Crabtree and Jerjen trimmed this to be a short film, I’m imagine they’d fix the problems that made this one unavoidably dull. The more you stretch something that’s already thin, the bigger the holes become. Inherit the Viper is a good title for a subpar film.
Synopsis: A young boy with Down Syndrome runs away to fulfill his dream of becoming a professional wrestler.
Stars: Dakota Johnson, Bruce Dern, Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen, John Hawkes, Thomas Haden Church, Jon Bernthal
Director: Tyler Nilson & Mike Schwartz
Running Length: 93 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Coming off a summer chock full of movies that seemed to only love us for our money, it would be easy to approach The Peanut Butter Falcon with a tiny bit of wariness. Is this character-driven drama really asking us to just sit back and enjoy ourselves? Shouldn’t we be figuring out what supporting players will be getting their own franchise spin-off or deciding whether or not to stay until the lights come up in case we miss any post-credit stingers? Don’t we need to steel ourselves to debate with our friends and followers the merits of how well the screenwriter and director have brought a beloved character from the page to the screen? Not so fast. It’s with a grateful heart I can say that originality and a tender spirit are the key ingredients in this sweet film that has no ulterior motives.
I have to admit, when I first heard of this film the title didn’t exactly set my world on fire because I couldn’t ever seem to remember if it was a kids movie or not. I kept getting it confused with 1985’s The Peanut Butter Solution which, incidentally, was the first flick to include a Celine Dion song. Anyway, I hadn’t heard anything about The Peanut Butter Falcon because it largely flew under the radar on its way into theaters, buoyed by a strong performance at the 2019 South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, TX. I also should be up front and say I outright skipped several advanced screenings of it in favor of other more mainstream films but the good buzz on this kept coming back my way and so I turned a movie night with a friend into an opportunity to see what the low hum hype was all about.
Without a family to care for him, 22-year old Zack (Zack Gottsagen) lives in a North Carolina nursing home where he is looked after by Eleanor (Dakota Johnson, Suspiria) and shares a room with Carl (Bruce Dern, The Hateful Eight), a wily man over a half century older than he is. Far too young to live the rest of his life surrounded by old people, Zack dreams of becoming a professional wrestler and train with his idol, the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church, Hellboy). Though a high functioning man with Down syndrome, Zack doesn’t have the resources to live on his own so, for the time, being he has to stay where he is. After a botched escape attempt, Eleanor cracks down on Zack and finally puts bars on his window to prevent him from stealing away when no one is looking.
Nearby, local fisherman Tyler (Shia LeBeouf, Lawless) has gotten into trouble again for fishing without a license and winds up vandalizing the equipment of Duncan, a thorny shoreman (John Hawkes, Lincoln) that doesn’t forgive and forget. Escaping in a boat and pursued through the marsh by the angry fisherman, Tyler discovers Zack has stowed away on his boat, having escaped from the retirement home in the middle of the night with a little help from Carl. Though lone-wolf Tyler has plans to start over in Florida, he can’t leave Zack behind and finds some purpose and promise of redemption in helping him get to the wrestling school…even if it means a few extra days of avoiding potential violence from Duncan and his henchman.
Reviews have mentioned Tyler and Zack’s journey to the home of the Salt Water Redneck as a modern day Huckleberry Finn tale, something Mark Twain would have had great fun writing, and that comparison isn’t wholly off the mark. Heck, at one point the two men even build a raft and sail down the river like the characters in Twain’s stories often did. When Eleanor tracks them down and makes the duo a trio, it adds a new dimension to an already intriguing premise. Along the way they meet a blind man of faith that affords the film some honest-to-goodness soul stirring passages and eventually come to their destination which might actually be the start of another journey altogether.
Writer/directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz have a little gem on their hands here and they’ve given it a fine polish. While the story might feel the slightest bit warmed over treacle at times, there are enough moments that subvert the expected and yield something more interesting. Though Johnson sinks believably into the role of an invested caregiver to Zack, the script wants her to take on another role for Tyler’s benefit that doesn’t feel as well-developed and certainly not as warranted. Thus, Eleanor starts to feel shoe-horned into the latter half of the film, like Nilson and Scharwartz expanded the role once Johnson signed on.
The best parts of the movie are watching Gottsagen and LeBeouf converse and react off of each other. I’m not sure how much of what is presented was the result of improv between the two or scripted developments but there’s a lightness and geniality to their quickly developed friendship that feels authentic. LeBeouf, often given to going too far inward in his roles, is fairly fantastic here, haunted by memories of his late brother (Jon Berenthal, The Accountant) and clearly far adrift in his life. Gottsagen, too, is an electric presence onscreen and by the time the movie reaches it’s apex we’ve fallen for his character so much that we want everything to go his way. Separately, the actors are absorbing but together they are dynamite.
Though Nilson and Schwartz biff the ending a bit with some confusing narrative choices and a final shot that I outright disliked, what came before it was an incredibly winning and rewarding night at the movies. It’s another film that, I feel, will play better at home because it feels like it wants to find a place in your heart. With it’s rich soundtrack and down home charm, I can easily see why this understated film appealed to the crowds that flock to the Texas film fest and why it’s proving to be an appetizing alternative to audiences at the end of their summer blockbuster rope.
Review: Plenty of directors have shown an affinity for their medium throughout the course of their careers…you kind of have to when you’re in an industry that loves a good pat on the back almost as much as they love a great opening weekend. I’m not sure if I know of a filmmaker, however, that truly loves movies as much as Quentin Tarantino does. Though the writer/director is notorious for his outspoken ways and has come under fire recently when some questionable actions on the set of the Kill Bill movies resurfaced, he’s never shied away from wearing his movie nerdishness loud and proud. A fanboy for movies that range from popular classic to underground cult, Tarantino has an eclectic taste which has helped him to cull numerous reference points for his films throughout the years.
So it’s fitting that he’s finally gotten around to making a film about Hollywood, creating a story about a waning star and his stunt double crossing paths with faces both factual and fictional. Far from being an expose on the dark side of the Hollywood lifestyle, Tarantino is more interested in recreating the feel of living in this mecca that lured so many dreamers and, more specifically, how one man comes to terms with his fading career. As with many Tarantino films, the object from the first frame is total immersion in the time and place and though it has recognizable actors from 2019 you could easily believe it was made 50 years ago. You’ve likely heard it also has something to do with Charles Manson, Sharon Tate, and the infamous tragedy that occurred on August 8, 1969 but…more on that later.
Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio, back onscreen after a four-year absence and reteaming with his Django Unchained director) is a former star of a mildly popular western television show looking for his next project. Unable to rest on the laurels of his previous role much longer, he seeks the advice of a blunt talent agent (Al Pacino, Stand-Up Guys, nicely dialing down his tired Pacino-y mannerisms) who urges him to consider leaving Hollywood to star in a series of spaghetti westerns filming in Italy. The majority of the film tracks Rick over the next two days as he prepares to film a guest spot on a television series while mulling this new international opportunity.
At the same time, Rick’s stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt, World War Z) acts as chauffeur, handyman, gopher, and overall sidekick to the man he takes onscreen falls for. Earning a bad reputation in the industry for a mystery surrounding his wife, Cliff can’t get much work outside of his employ with Rick so he sticks around hoping his boss will land another role that will call for his talents. The two men have a clear kinship that extends beyond any lines of stardom and there’s an unspoken respect and loyalty flowing both ways, which is established so well Tarantino doesn’t need to fill in any gaps for the audience into how the two were paired in the first place.
What Tarantino does do, though, is take numerous opportunities to cut away to previous jobs Rick and Cliff worked on with varying degrees of success. It’s fun to see DiCaprio loosen up dancing and singing (terribly) on Hullaballoo and an extended sequence where Cliff has it out with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) on the set of The Green Hornet has absolutely no bearing on the rest of the movie but is quite entertaining on its own merits. Where it gets tricky is when Tarantino indulges himself too much, taking us on long drives through Los Angeles (we get it, it’s a bigger town than we think) and burns valuable time with clips from Rick Dalton’s previous appearances. Still, those drives through Los Angeles give production designer Barbara Ling (The Lucky One) an excuse to recreate some fantastic locales in exquisite detail. All theaters would need to do is pump in some smog and you are right there in the heart of L.A.
The first hour of Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood ambles nicely into interesting territory as we get our bearings (courtesy, again, of those long car rides) but it’s Cliff’s chance meeting of a hippie waif (Margaret Qualley, Novitiate) and offering her a ride home when the movie starts to get intriguing. When they arrive at Spahn Ranch in Chatsworth, CA and Cliff meets the girl’s “family” his alarm bells go off and the hairs on the back of your neck will start to stand up. Tarantino makes this not just the turning point of the movie but it’s centerpiece as well, as Cliff slowly realizes things aren’t what they appear to be and the property, which he is familiar with from his career with Rick, wouldn’t just be turned over to these creepy hippies.
Here’s where I have to give the slightest caveat of a spoiler alert coming up. While I won’t give any key plot details away I’ll need to make a few points known. It’s not something you won’t already know.
Though many of us know about Charles Manson and his Manson Family, I was fuzzier on some of the finer details and didn’t realize until later when it was that Tarantino shifted into a slightly alternate timeline to the events as they originally occurred. The actual involvement of Manson and his followers in Tarantino’s movie is, honestly, minimal but it is a key piece of the overall story Tarantino has worked out regarding Rick and Cliff.
That means Manson victim Sharon Tate becomes a character in the film as well, showing up as Rick’s next door neighbor and giving Tarantino another real life individual with a timeline he may or may not feel the need to play around with. Though brought to life with vibrancy by a nearly silent Margot Robbie (Mary, Queen of Scots), Tate is a minor player that Tarantino prefers to keep at a distance when things take a dark turn. Clearly, he only wants to remember Tate when she was young and beautiful, even going so far as to have Robbie going to see herself as Tate in a movie but watching the actual footage of Tate in the film. For other celebrity sightings, keep your eyes open for appearances by Steve McQueen, Squeaky Fromme (Dakota Fanning, Effie Gray, in a chilling cameo), Mama Cass, and Connie Stevens.
It’s not spoiling anything to say the night of August 8, 1969 is the final destination of the movie. The ending of the film is still a bit of a puzzlement to me and I think I’ll need to see it again to firm up my thoughts on how successful it is. I’d be interested in hearing what the families of the victims think about the way Tarantino handled the events of that night and if the choices he made moved any immovable dials in their heart. Like most Tarantino films (and quite like 2015’s The Hateful Eight) the director pulls all the stops out for the final reel – audience members at my screening seemed to go along with it but my reaction was more muted.
The real story here are the performances of DiCaprio and Pitt, arguably two of the honest-to-goodness biggest stars Hollywood has right now. Both have toplined countless films and brought them to box office glory but combining their talents was a real win for Tarantino and a boon for the film as a whole. As with many of his performances, I found DiCaprio good to a point, but the actor always gets to a certain level where you clearly see the effort being made and then it falls apart for me. A scene of Rick chastising himself after a lackluster performance in a scene goes on far too long and, because we’ve already seen Rick’s vulnerability, is redundant. It’s a good thing DiCaprio has Pitt next to him for so much of the movie because this is Pitt’s most radiant time to shine. Wearing the barely visible faded scars of a stuntman long in the business, Pitt’s best moments are when he’s not saying anything at all but just reacting to what’s happening around him. It’s one of his all-time great roles and, coupled with the much anticipated Ad Astra, could mean 2019 winds up being a very good year for him.
At nearly three hours, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood could arguably be trimmed by a good twenty minutes, though I think it would be at the expense of some tone setting and establishment of characters. No question, there’s a less laborious way to get through the movie but I didn’t find myself bored, easily making it through this one more than I have numerous films half its length. It’s a must-see in theaters and try to catch it in 35MM should it be playing in that format nearest you. Then go read up about the people and places you see and untangle the fact and fiction braid Tarantino has weaved.
Synopsis: A violent convict is given the chance to participate in a rehabilitation therapy program involving the training of wild mustangs.
Stars: Matthias Schoenaerts, Jason Mitchell, Bruce Dern, Gideon Adlon, Connie Britton, Josh Stewart
Director: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
Running Length: 96 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: I wouldn’t blame you if you happened to let The Mustang trot on by you as we start to approach the jumping off point of the summer movie season. It’s not a flashy movie with superheroes dueling it out in a grand finale of a popular franchise (Avengers; Endgame) nor is it a horror film out to spook you (Us, Pet Sematary, The Curse of La Llorona) and it definitely isn’t a family film like Dumbo, though I’d argue that’s not a family film either. It doesn’t feature actors that can open a movie on their name alone and the film has been marketed accurately as a heavy drama with a main character often hard to root for.
I saw The Mustang right after taking in Captain Marvel for a second time and the experience was different though some of the feelings were the same. Both films featured strong examples of emotional resonance but whereas Captain Marvel is designed to have you sort of blasted backwards in your seat, The Mustang’s quiet grace made it a film you wanted to lean into and sit a little further forward for.
In a Nevada prison, Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts, The Danish Girl) is serving a long sentence for a violent crime we only get bits and pieces of information about. Used to serving his time in his preferred solitary confinement, he’s brought back into the general population and given a roommate (Josh Stewart, Interstellar) for the first time in years. Barely speaking more than a few words to anyone in a given day, Coleman starts a prison job maintaining the grounds but is intrigued by the horses being watched over by other inmates. He becomes fixated on one particular horse too wild to be broken and is recruited by the salty program lead (Bruce Dern, Nebraska) to try to see if he can have any luck taming the beautiful horse.
Now, it isn’t hard for the audience (or Coleman) to see the obvious parallels between the prisoner and the horse and that doesn’t seem to concern director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre in the slightest. In fact, I feel the filmmakers almost go out of the way to show us how closely tied in personality the man and mustang are. Stubborn and willful could describe Coleman or the horse he names Marquis and over time the two form the bond we expect but in ways we can’t quite predict. The path isn’t easy and the film features several unsettling acts of violence (not always directed toward the horse) that don’t feel like cheap devices to gain sympathy.
At a sleek 96 minutes, The Mustang is mostly muscle and is led by a stellar performance from Schoenaerts. Over the last several years Schoenaerts has proven to be a dependable presence in films but he’s yet to truly break through to the next level of stardom in the US. His performance is as good as any Oscar nominee last year (even better than at least one) as is Mudbound’s Jason Mitchell (Contraband) memorable supporting turn as a fellow inmate that shows Coleman the literal ropes of the horse ring. A sidewinding subplot concerning Coleman’s prison visits with his estranged daughter (Gideon Adlon) skate the edge of maudlin but the two actors are so good in their strained meetings that you begin to feel just as uncomfortable in their presence as they are. Featured in just two scenes, it’s never a bad day when Connie Britton (This Is Where I Leave You) appears onscreen as a prison psychologist.
Financed with monies awarded by the Sundance Institute, The Mustang has the distinct feel of an indie drama that would go over well at the Sundance Film Festival before playing at your local art house cinema. It’s likely a bit too small to become a breakthrough hit and its release date so close to highly anticipated blockbusters will all but push this one out of your local theater quickly. So after you see Avengers: Endgame, consider saddling up to this one. Or, make this one your first choice because it won’t be around for long.
Synopsis: When Eleanor, Theo, and Luke decide to take part in a sleep study at a huge mansion they get more than they bargained for when Dr. Marrow tells them of the house’s ghostly past.
Stars: Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson, Lili Taylor, Bruce Dern, Marian Seldes
Director: Jan de Bont
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: Boy, The Haunting sure brings back a lot of memories for me. It’s 1999 and I’ve finished my first year of college. I’d been a hardcore movie fan all through high school and middle school but with my growing independence I was able to pick what movies I wanted to take myself to and involve friends with. The net was still in its relative infancy so to watch trailers outside of a movie theater you had to go on the web and hope your connection was strong enough to keep the preview from buffering forever. I remember watching the original teaser trailer for The Haunting on TrailerPark.com about a hundred times because it had everything going for it. Scary movie? Check. Famous director? Check. Popular stars? Check. Prestige producers? Check. It was all there. Then the movie came out.
Here’s the original teaser to jog your memory:
Speaking of memories, I remember seeing The Haunting on its opening day and being more than a bit baffled by what was going on with my sure-fire sure thing. I mean, I had spent $20 to have the glossy double sided theatrical one-sheet poster sent to me so I could display it in my room – I didn’t spend that much money on a turkey, did I? At the time, I felt I had. The audiences were laughing at moments meant to be scary and the effects felt like a let-down considering the budget and who was involved. I was so frustrated I think I saw the movie once more when it came out on DVD but hadn’t seen it in probably a decade and a half.
We’re in the season of scary movies so I figured now would be better than ever to revisit this remake of Robert Wise’s undisputed 1963 classic. Also, seeing that the original novel by Shirley Jackson has received another remake in the form of a 10-part Netflix show, I wanted to give this one another look before diving into that new production. Produced by Steven Spielberg’s (JAWS) studio Dreamworks SKG, aside from a few admittedly cheesy bits and those same iffy effects, I was amazed to discover that The Haunting wasn’t the corny mess I remembered it to be. Not by half.
The same day her sister announces plans to sell the apartment she shared with her recently deceased invalid mother, Nell (Lili Taylor, The Conjuring) receives a call inviting her to participate in a sleep study at a secluded mansion. She’ll be paid well and room and board is provided. It seems the perfect solution to her dilemma. Arriving at the ominous Hill House, she’s transfixed by the large estates beauty and ornate interior design. Joined by bisexual vixen Theo (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Side Effects) and all-American dude Luke (Owen Wilson, Inherent Vice), Nell settles in far easier than her fellow test subjects, seemingly unfazed by the house’s nighttime activities which involve strange noises and ghostly apparitions.
The study is being conducted by Dr. Marrow (Liam Neeson, The Commuter) and, unbeknownst to the three, the study they are participating in has less to do with their sleep patterns and more to do with their fear reflexes. He’s chosen Hill House for its storied history of being haunted and before he knows it the ghosts truly do come out to play in increasingly aggressive methods. Soon, Nell comes to realize there are two sets of ghosts at work in the house. One group is steering them all to a mystery hidden within while another more malevolent force wants to make sure Nell never leaves.
The first hour or so of The Haunting is a well-constructed vice grip that continues to tighten as the people explore the house and its impressively crafted rooms. The production design here is out of this world, rich and detailed with no two spaces looking exactly alike. Much of the huge budget must have been devoted to these playing spaces because while you sort of always know they are sets and not practical rooms in a real mansion the overall illusion is a wonder. From the large ballroom to a panic inducing revolving room of mirrors, each door opens up to a new feast of the eyes. Even nearly twenty years later it’s remarkable.
Where the film tends to run off the rails (and was then savaged by critics) is in the visual effects which look one step up from Casper the Friendly Ghost-style floating images. Some of them are downright laughable, especially the wooden cherub faces that decorate Nell’s room. One moment they are giving you the creeps as their dead eyes bore into you, the next you’re giggling when their expression changes to horror with wide eyes and their mouths forming an “O”. The final sequence is nearly all CGI and it fails to captivate you, though cinematographer turned director Jan de Bont (Flatliners) does stir up some good camera work during the final act.
Yet for all these problems which do play a part in diminishing the overall effect The Haunting was going for, I still found myself enjoying this re-watch all these years later. It’s well-intentioned and largely well-made with a great cast (more Lili Taylor in everything, please) and is a masterpiece of set-design. I went in thinking it would still be that cornball loser I had written it off as being all those years ago but found myself invested in the material and characters. Sadly, this hasn’t been released on BluRay (why the heck not?) but do yourself a favor and find an HD streaming copy to rent. It’s worth another look.
Review: It’s hard to believe that as prolific as Quentin Tarantino has become, The Hateful Eight is only the eighth feature film released by the man with the manic energy and mad love for all things cinema. Starting off strong with Reservoir Dogs in 1992 before hitting the mega big time with 1994’s Pulp Fiction, Tarantino has developed a definite style that he can reign in when he wants or let loose in most outrageous ways.
Last represented in 2013 with Django Unchained (which netted him his second Oscar for Best Screenplay), The Hateful Eight almost never saw the light of day as early script leaks frustrated the director. Thankfully, Tarantino’s got good friends and they encouraged him not to be deterred by internet trolls and make the film as he intended. Tweaking his script and gathering a most impressive line-up of stars, Tarantino has another winner on his hands and one that shows both sides of his cinematic calling card.
In a bloody mash-up of Agatha Christie mysteries and the snowy sci-fi classic The Thing, The Hateful Eight takes place primarily on one set, a haberdashery where strangers gather to wait out a blistering blizzard…but one (or more) of them aren’t who they claim to be. Tarantino has crafted another memorable set of characters from bounty hunters John Ruth (Kurt Russell, Furious 7) and Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson, RoboCop) to retired General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern, Nebraska) to newly minted sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins, American Ultra). Ruth has chained himself to Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Spectacular Now), a wanted woman that faces the hangman’s noose once they arrive in Red Rock, Wyoming. Also factoring into the mix is aloof gunsman Joe Gage (Michael Madsen, Die Another Day), Bob (Demian Bichir, A Better Life), and Oswaldo (Tim Roth, Selma).
How these people end up in the haberdashery are told through a framing device that divides the film into a half dozen or so sections. Each section arrives via a title card that announces the chapter and gives the audience a clue as to what’s coming up. This being Tarantino, he’s not afraid to go a little out of order so he can keep the mystery hidden a little longer.
For a film taking place in largely one location, it never feels stagey or cagey. Tarantino and cinematographer Robert Richardson (an Oscar winner for Hugo) make the small outpost look massive, the perfect place for a killer to hide out. The performances are typically larger than life, with Russell going full John Wayne on his line readings and Jackson being…well…Jackson. Goggins is an actor I can usually take or leave (mostly leave) but his goofy look and delivery mesh nicely with Madsen’s cool gunslinger and Bichir’s man of few words Mexican. There’s a lot of buzz around Leigh’s performance and with good reason, the actress has several dynamite scenes that you’ll have to wait some time for…but when they arrive they’re the stuff Oscar nominations are made of.
Tarantino and The Weinstein Company are taking a unique approach to its release of The Hateful Eight. Tarantino filmed the movie in “glorious 70MM” and several cities are playing host to a Road Show version of the film, complete with an overture and intermission. If you can find this version, make sure to catch it because it gives you a full movie-going experience, recapturing the way movies were released back in the heyday of moviemaking that Tarantino pines so longingly for. It’s also an opportunity to hear the great Ennio Morricone’s haunting score during the overture. It’s crazy Morricone has never won an Oscar and his work here might finally right that wrong (though he’ll have stiff competition from John Williams with Star Wars: The Force Awakens).
At 187 minutes the movie is a commitment and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t get a little snoozy during the first half. It feels as long as it is…but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When it does let loose, it becomes a graphic cornucopia of blood and brain matter and one character ends the film covered head to toe in gore. The wait for this is most certainly worth it, especially when the strings are being pulled by so many talented contributors.
Synopsis: In post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunters try to find shelter during a blizzard but get involved in a plot of betrayal and deception. Will they survive?
Release Date: December 25, 2015
Thoughts: It’s still hard to believe that Quentin Tarantino has only directed eight feature films (I not counting the outings where he did additional filming or directed as part of an anthology)…but it’s impressive that each one has been a not-so minor classic. Anyone that has an appreciation for film should also have an appreciation for what Tarantino (Django Unchained) does, cinematically, with each of his films. From the cast to the score to the script to the production design to the cinematography, Tarantino shows time and time again in each and every frame that he celebrates film through and through. True, his proclivity for extreme subjects doesn’t leave him open to be fully embraced by audiences with quieter tastes, but his fans (myself included) always look forward to his next endeavor.
The Hateful Eight is one to get excited about. Filled with a stable of Tarantino favorites (and a few that you can’t believe have never worked with him before) and made in “glorious 70MM” this western drama takes place primarily on one set over one night…a bold move to make from an already bold director. This first teaser is a sight to behold, it gets the juices flowing and gives me faith that I can make it through another busy holiday schedule if this is going to be my reward. Can’t wait.
Well, though I always find it difficult to nail down my Oscar selections pre-nomination day because I feel like I’m somehow cosmically jinxing potential favorites, I’m taking part in The 2014 Oscar Contest over at Film Actually because…well…it’s just the right thing to do 🙂
This being a contest and all I threw in a few dark horse candidates and left out some bigger names just to keep it interesting. I don’t necessarily think there will be 10 nominees for Best Picture but ultimately I couldn’t make up my mind on which ones to remove from my list…
I hope there are a few surprises tomorrow morning, though….even if it means I lose a few points in the contest 🙂
Below are my predictions for who will go to bed tomorrow night an Oscar nominee…
Review: If one were to look at through the seven films that Alexander Payne has directed, one could conclude that the director loves a good road trip. Four of his films (Sideways, About Schmidt, The Descendants, and now Nebraska) deal with the central characters making some sort of journey from their home to a destination not totally familiar. It’s through this trek that they discover new truths about themselves and the people that surround them.
You’d think that after three films this trope would get old but Payne once again demonstrates dexterity as a film craftsman that helps keep Nebraska on a focused course. He’s not alone in his success, though, thanks to stark black and white cinematography from Phedon Papamichael. Papamichael’s luscious lensing of the dense tropical locations of The Descendants is countered quite nicely with the way he turns his camera onto the vast open expanses of the Midwest.
Skilled directing and excellent cinematography aside, a movie this delicate has to have the right cast to convey its message and Payne has assembled another ensemble that works in harmony with Bob Nelson’s script to create an array of broken (and hilarious characters).
Center stage is veteran actor Bruce Dern who delivers a career high performance in an already richly celebrated resume of films from the last four decades. He’s Woody Grant, an alcoholic of creaking bones and wispy hair that could be either drifting into senility or simply not caring what he remembers any more. When he receives a letter in the mail from a Publishers Clearing House-like compay letting him know he’s a millionaire, he becomes fixated on getting to Nebraska to claim his prize and buy that truck he always wanted.
Much to the chagrin of his brusque wife Kate (June Squibb, About Schmidt), his stereo salesman son David (Will Forte) agrees to pack up his car and take his dad those many miles…because Woody has already tried to walk there on more than one occasion. During the road trip there’s your typical father/son bonding but a stop in Woody’s hometown for a visit with old family, friends, and friendly enemies threatens to derail the journey altogether.
What Payne does so well is find new ways of exposing family secrets in a way that doesn’t feel trite or forced. There’s a definite history of the Grant family in this rural rest stop where they find themselves and anyone that’s come from a small town will get a good laugh out of the way that news spreads fast amongst even the most out of touch townspeople. The funniest moments (and Nebraska has quite a few) spring from the most mundane goings on and that’s the beauty of the discoveries Payne offers up.
Even at nearly two hours, the film doesn’t have a lot of slack moments. You’d think that once Woody and David get off the road and basically wander around this quiet town that there’d be one or two moments where the film would lose some steam but in fact it only gets more interesting as its then that we truly learn more about Woody’s past and how his character influenced how he formed and raised his own family.
Deeply funny with a hint of a somber future, Nebraska still is one of the more entertaining films I’ve seen this year. Curmudgeonly Dern and the irascible Squibb are sure-fire Oscar nominees but special mention should also go to Forte for stretching his dramatic chops far beyond the confines of his previous post-Saturday Night Live opportunities. Hitch your wagon to this cross-country comedy and enjoy the ride.
Synopsis: An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.
Release Date: November 15, 2013
Thoughts: As a fan of the majority of director Alexander Payne’s work (including my favorite film of 2011, The Descendants), I’m eagerly awaiting his latest piece which won lead actor Bruce Dern the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival. Filmed in glorious black and white, this road trip dramedy looks spiked with Payne’s observant style and wry wit. It should be interesting to see how Will Forte fares as Dern’s exasperated son, especially considering that up until now he hasn’t had much of a chance to show off any dramatic chops. This is high on my list of films to see.
Oh…and I am always excited when I see a director use a retro film logo (David Fincher and Steven Soderbergh also like pulling these out before their films)