REVIEW: The Hateful Eight

9 01 2016

Snappy dialogue and intricately planned-out scenes put Quentin Tarantino on the map as a generation-defining talent, so it sure is nice to see him once again embracing that spirit in his eighth film, “The Hateful Eight.” After the bloated, mangled mess of “Django Unchained,” operating within his usual wheelhouse of tension ratcheting conversations and raucous bloodshed feels more welcome than usual.

In many ways, however, “The Hateful Eight” is somewhat of an anomaly in Tarantino’s canon. Sure, it bears the usual stamps of expressive language, scrambled chronology and unapologetic gore, but he appears to eschew his favored postmodern pastiche in favor of a more classical vibe.

This proclivity appears most obviously in his selection of music. Apart from “Kill Bill,” Tarantino has never commissioned a composer to score his films. Repurposing aural cues from other films or cultural products has served as a thread running throughout his filmography, reinforcing Tarantino’s DJ-like position as director. He blends, appropriates and remixes to unify and synthesize disparate styles and genres into something entirely new.

Tarantino does not abandon this approach completely in “The Hateful Eight,” although the majority of the sonic landscape in the film comes from a brand new Ennio Morricone score. The very musician whose compositions Tarantino has deployed to great effect in each of his films made this millennia gets to express himself on his own terms. Morricone grants the production a heightened level of prestige and legitimacy with his participation, allowing it a certain measure of independence. “The Hateful Eight” does not rely on referencing other films to imbue the proceedings with meaning. Rather, Tarantino casts his gaze inwards toward the dark, beating heart of his own work.

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REVIEW: Arbitrage

6 10 2012

If Adrian Lyne ever made a movie about Wall Street, I have a feeling it would look something like “Arbitrage” (OK, maybe with a little less steaminess).  Nicholas Jarecki’s debut narrative feature has high stakes, heightened emotions, and well over fifty shades of grey in every character.  It’s a world where every character is suspect and every decision deserves a screaming match debating the respective merits of the choice.

Don’t get me wrong, I like when movies give themselves a sense of weight.  Sometimes to create drama, you have to do a little dramatization.  But it’s done to a bit of an extreme in “Arbitrage.”  When you hit a high note in the first third of the movie and keep at the same pitch for nearly an hour, you lose a sense of forward momentum propelling both the film’s story and the audience’s interest.  Not to mention, watching a movie so high-strung and strung out gets quite exhausting.

This exaggerated acting leads to some fine performances, especially from Richard Gere as a ruthless, conniving greedy hedge fund executive (apparently the only kind these days).  He’s slick, slippery, and seriously stupefying.  Gere’s Robert Miller is motivated by deep, dark forces, ones that the actor digs deep to wrestle with.  Dealing with the collapse of his financial house of cards and the death of his mistress at the same time tend to make someone that primal, though.

While Susan Sarandon as his scorned wife and Brit Marling as his conflicted daughter can both shout at his level, neither can match Gere’s intensity.  I just wish “Arbitrage” had toned down a little bit to stay level with Gere.  A little bit of internalizing and a little less monologuing could have done wonders for the movie.  As is, it feels like an all too familiar yell that dilutes its own message with heavy-handedness.  B





F.I.L.M. of the Week (April 30, 2010)

30 04 2010

Opening today in theaters is the latest “A Nightmare on Elm Street” movie, which will surely provide the same old horror movie shenanigans.  But why settle?  You want to see a movie that can scare you in new and unexpected ways.  Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” is a different kind of horror, and it proves to be absolutely terrifying.

In fact, terror might be a better word than horror to describe the movie.  It’s not heavily plotted, and it is driven by the sheer terror of the situation that an average family finds themselves in one day at the lake.  Out of nowhere, husband and wife George and Ann (Tim Roth and Naomi Watts) as well as their son Georgie are held captive inside their own vacation home by two sadistic young neighbors (Brady Corbet and Michael Pitt).  They play cruel games with the unsuspecting family and even wager that the three of them will not live past 9:00 AM the next day.  What unfolds is hardly funny as torture, violence, and manipulation make for a truly unforgettable evening.

In case you hadn’t figured it out, this is not a movie for the squeamish or faint at heart.  “Funny Games” is a movie designed to terrify you and make you very uncomfortable, and it succeeds in that regards.  The events that take place are like a worst nightmare for so many people, such as domestic terrorists violating the privacy of a home.

Haneke uses a very different style than the show-it-all shenanigans usually employed by American horror filmmakers.  He is much more restrained and particular about the way he portrays the terror, but it works because of the painful realism that he uses.  I won’t ruin the key quirk of his style, just keep a close eye out for oddities.

Nowadays, movies are quickly divided into “art film” and “mainstream film.”  The beautiful thing about “Funny Games” is that it dabbles in both.  It plays like an art film with its nihilism and deliberate pacing (including one ten-minute shot that will scare the living daylights out of you), but in the middle are drops of that ridiculous American horror that has given us six volumes of “Saw” and eight installments of “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”  If you can muster up the courage to sit through Haneke’s two hours of harrowing terror, you’ll find it refreshing to see a movie that can straddle the line between the two camps of film.