Review – The Hateful Eight (2015)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, Demian Bichir, Michael Madsen
At a time when the film industry has become almost uniformly digital, Quentin Tarantino remains a passionate supporter of the celluloid process. With his eighth film, The Hateful Eight, he has put his money (or rather, someone else’s money) where his mouth is and chosen to shoot the film in the long dormant Ultra Panavision 70mm format. The last film to be shot on this super wide screen format (2.76:1) was Khartoum in 1966. Yet while employing a film format which is associated with epic spectacle, with its minimal locations The Hateful Eight is probably Tarantino’s smallest scale film since Reservoir Dogs – though twice as long and with fifty five times the budget, indicative of the increasing excess of Tarantino’s work.
Bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) is taking wanted murderer Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock to collect the $10,000 reward. While most bounty hunters prefer the ‘dead’ option in ‘dead or alive,’ when John “The Hangman” Ruth catches you, you hang. Continue reading
Review – Riddick (2013)
Director: David Twohy
Starring: Vin Diesel, Jordi Molla, Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Bautista
For all the limitations Vin Diesel may possess as an actor, he definitely has a talent for getting sequels made. In the same year that saw the sixth instalment in the Fast & Furious franchise we also get Riddick, the third in the sci-fi thriller series that started back in 2000 with Pitch Black.
After an unpopular detour into the fantasy genre with 2004’s The Chronicles of Riddick, Riddick attempts a return to the simple formula which made Pitch Black a hit. Once again, the Furyan killing machine Richard B. Riddick is fighting for survival on an unknown hostile planet. In the films overly long opening passage, we watch a lone Riddick employing his survival skills in dangerous desert terrain. We see him fight off aggressive aliens, treat his own injuries, and adopt an alien dog as his companion. This dull opening passage is accompanied by awful narration. This narration is absent from the films later passages where things are actually happening, and seems clearly to be the director’s acknowledgement that what we are seeing is not sufficient to maintain our interest.
Eventually Riddick stumbles across an abandoned supply station and activates a distress beacon. The signal, identifying the wanted Riddick as its source, draws two groups of respondents. One is a group of bounty hunters after his head, the other is a military squad after information. At this point the film undergoes a change in point of view. Our primary focus now becomes these respondents. After being the central focus of the first section of the film, Riddick becomes an ever present yet unseen menace who torments – and in some cases slightly more than torments – these new arrivals, in his efforts to commandeer one of their ships to escape. It is this passage of the film, where Riddick is the hunter seen only in glimpses, that is most engaging.
But time is not on Riddick’s side. A storm is coming and bringing with it a plague of giant scorpion-like aliens. So Riddick and his would-be captors have no choice but to join forces. As the plague of aliens descend on the characters cooped up in the small supply station, Riddick becomes very derivative of Aliens. Note that I specified Aliens, James Cameron’s gun-heavy, subtlety free sequel, rather than Ridley Scott’s suspense fuelled masterpiece Alien. Transitioning from the middle passage in which the danger, Riddick, could be anywhere, to this finale where the danger, aliens, is everywhere takes all of the tension out of the film. Your only reason to engage is if you care about the characters, and unfortunately even this late into the film you have been given no reason to.
Riddick is a film almost devoid of any likeable characters. There is no one you can comfortably side with. It is an action movie without a hero. Riddick himself is so violent in both his actions and his manner, and seems to take such joy from that violence, that it would be overly generous to suggest that he even qualifies for the status of an antihero. Even the decision to give him a dog, usually a sure fire way of humanising a character, can only do so much.
Not one for those with delicate sensibilities, Riddick is graphically violent and at times is downright offensive, particularly in the way it treats its only female character of substance, the military officer Dahl (played by Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff), who despite being one of the most capable soldiers there is constantly subject to sexual baiting from all sides. This seems to be a movie to appease the fans who felt let down nine years ago by The Chronicles of Riddick, but won’t hold much interest for anyone else.
Rating – ★☆
Review by Duncan McLean
Review – Kick-Ass 2 (2013)
Director: Jeff Wadlow
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey, Morris Chestnut
In 2010, amidst a flurry of superhero comic book adaptations, Kick-Ass managed to capture the public’s attention by creating a little controversy. An adaptation of the comic book series by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr, this story of an average high school student who wonders why no one has ever tried to be a superhero before and decides to give it a go not only featured quite graphic violence, but a foul-mouthed vigilante played by a then 11-year-old Chloë Grace Moretz. Three years later Kick-Ass and Hit Girl are back in a film which provides more of the same.
Like a number of superhero sequels before it, Kick-Ass 2 is primarily a film about escalation. After his mob boss father was killed by Kick-Ass at the end of the first film, Chris D’Amico is bent on revenge. Abandoning his superhero persona, the Red Mist, in favour of a new name that isn’t fit for print he decides to become the world’s first super villain, assembling a squad of costume clad henchmen to help him take down Kick-Ass. At the same time, the emergence of Kick-Ass has inspired numerous others of varying degrees of skill and sanity to don costumes and join him as vigilante crime fighters.
It is in its approach to these characters that Kick-Ass 2 is quite interesting. Where other superhero stories ask what prompts someone to become a superhero, the Kick-Ass films ask a slightly different question of their characters. What type of person chooses to put on a costume and fight crime? The film then presents us with two groups. The first are the incredibly naïve but well intentioned, who are ill-equipped for what they are endeavouring to do and are ultimately a danger to themselves. The second group are the psychotic, who have no appreciation for appropriate action, just a black and white concept of justice, and are ultimately a danger to everyone.
After being a scene stealing support character in the original, Chloe Gracë Moretz’s Hit Girl becomes the co-lead character in this sequel and once again she provides the movie’s x-factor. Now 15 years old, Mindy Macready promises her new guardian that she will turn her back on crime fighting. Her subplot, which delivers many of the films laughs, delves into an idea that will be common knowledge to many teenagers, that the social world of high school can be every bit as savage as anything you might come across in a dark alley in the bad part of town.
While Kick-Ass 2 lacks some of the shock value of the original, it is still a very violent film, though it is notable that martial arts and hand-to-hand combat seems to have replaced the gun violence that was so prominent in the original. Kick-Ass 2 was also not without controversy in the lead-up to its release. Jim Carrey, who had joined the cast as vigilante Colonel Stars and Stripes, announced on Twitter in June that he would not be taking part in any promotion for the film as he had experienced a change in heart in light of recent events – most notably the Sandy Hook high school shooting which occurred only a few weeks after he filmed his scenes – and could no longer “support that level of violence.” The course language has also been dialed up. Obviously a 15-year-old has to go further to confront you with language than an 11-year-old does.
Fans of the first film will still find plenty to like about this sequel – the action sequences are well done and there are more than a handful of laughs – but ultimately despite being every bit as violent and profane as the first it is neither as shocking or as clever.
Rating – ★★★
Review by Duncan McLean
Review – Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Pihla Viitala, Thomas Mann, Peter Stormare
If there’s something strange in your neighbourhood, who you gonna call? Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. That’s right, the little boy and girl who got lost in the woods and found themselves in a witches cottage made of candy are all grown up, and armed with an arsenal of medieval machine guns and crossbows they travel the countryside ridding towns of their witches.
The Brothers Grimm’ tale is the latest in a growing number of traditional fairy tales to get Hollywood revisions in recent years. In 2011 we had Red Riding Hood, last year we had a double dose of Snow White with Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, and Jack the Giant Slayer is due to hit our screens in March. In actuality Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters was shot two years ago and Paramount have been waiting for the right moment to let it out. This provides some answers for those people wondering what on earth Jeremy Renner was doing in this after appearing in genuine blockbusters like The Avengers, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The Bourne Legacy.
The first time I saw a poster for this movie I shook my head. When I saw the trailer it just made me a bit sad. Surely this had to be one of the most ridiculous premises for a movie yet, I thought. But then I saw it and guess what, it is ridiculous… but it isn’t terrible.
Don’t get ahead of yourself, it is far from being good, but it isn’t terrible. Where it drops the ball is that it doesn’t seem to realise that it is ridiculous. Ridiculousness in itself is not a bad thing. Had the filmmakers embraced the ridiculousness of the notion that Hansel and Gretel might grow up to be arse-kicking supernatural bounty hunters they could have played it up a bit, earned a bit of camp appeal and maybe even gathered a cult following. Instead the movie seems to take itself a bit too seriously, surprising given that Will Ferrel and Adam McKay of Anchorman fame are among its producers.
While most of the movie is pretty inane, there are moments of cleverness. For example, not only did their childhood experience set them on the path to their present day profession, it has also left Hansel a diabetic, suffering from “the sugar sickness” and requiring regular insulin injections.
In a movie that is so predictable that you feel like you know what is around every corner, the one thing that is surprising about Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is how schlocky it is. While the premise seems to suggest a very light gothic horror, the movie has a lot of blood, a surprising amount of coarse language and even a little bit of nudity. As a result it has been given an MA15+ rating (R in the USA) which will surely only serve to restrict the access of the primary demographic who might have been persuaded to think Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters sounded like a good idea.
Rating – ★★
Review by Duncan McLean
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