Tag Archives: quentin tarantino

Bad Times At The El Royale (2018)

25 Oct

Take a few strangers, a bag of cash, some heroin, a heavy rainstorm, a rifle or two, CIA operatives, domestic violence, PTSD, and alcohol – throw it all together with some 70’s Americana (complete with an abundance of disco soul) and you have Bad Times At El Royale. 

Written and directed by Drew Goddard (Cabin In The Woods), the film details the events bestowing a group of unfortunate strangers who happen to be at the same hotel over the course of a stormy night along the California/Nevada border. In fact, the hotel itself straddles the boundary, with half the rooms being in the “sunny and relaxing” California section and the other half in “glamourous and indulgent” Nevada – or so the marketing pitch goes – with a bright red line dividing up the property. It’s in the El Royale’s lobby where we are introduced to a trio of travelers looking for a room. There is the priest, Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a single woman named Darlene (Cynthia Erivo) en route to Reno, and a vacuum salesman with a southern drawl named Mr. Sullivan (Jon Hamm). After some chit-chat, the hotel clerk finally shows up in the form of a boyish young man named Miles. Things get complicated as secrets are revealed, and a few surprise guests arrive at the hotel throughout the course of the night.

Bad Times is the kind of film that invests itself heavily in plot. It’s the sort of grounded, single-location storytelling that you see with movies that also work well as theatrical pieces like Wait Until Dark, 12 Angry Men, or August: Osage County. With a film like this, having a character-driven narrative is absolutely essential – especially so when the thing is over 2 hours. Unfortunately, Bad Times collapses under its own weight about halfway through and doesn’t have enough dramatic prowess to justify its lengthy runtime. Goddard is a much better director than he is writer; most of the characters in Bad Times feel stale and onenote. He gets away with it just fine in Cabin In The Woods, a horror venture co-written with Joss Whedon, where the leads are intentionally variations on common genre tropes. Here, Goddard tries to substitute unnecessary flashbacks as a proxy for fleshing out complex character motivations. What he fails to realize is that providing already-thin characters with their own backstory only reinforces their one-dimensional traits.

While I appreciated the overall narrative beats that makeup Bad Times, the characters’ behavior simply does not make enough sense to propel the script along like they need to. The best (worst?) example of this is with Billy (played by Chris Hemsworth), who is the biggest fruitcake-of-a-bad-guy to come along since Jared Leto’s Joker in Suicide Squad. Hemsworth chews up every line with a portraly that veers on the edge of camp but whose role is essential enough in the story so that Goddard demands we take him seriously (one can’t help but wonder if this character’s most effective contribution here is the image of a shirtless Hemsworth to use in the film’s marketing).

There is a lot to admire with Bad Times – a lot more than there is to dislike. I particularly dug the noir-infused tone and beautiful interior set design. The post-modern story structure (complete with title cards!) is an admirable but obvious attempt to try and emulate Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, a film which Bad Times owes a lot to. But unlike that film, (Tarantino is a master at understanding the brevity of writing nuanced, complex characters) Goddard’s work trails off around the third act right when the script should be picking up steam. In retrospect, I liked the film’s first act the best simply because I knew the least about all the players at the hotel and appreciated the intrigue. Most of the second half becomes a prime example of style-over-substance and some parts of Bad Royale end up feeling like a music video that goes on for way too long.

Still though, the film showcases Goddard’s skill as a director who can effectively use the slow-burn to ramp up tension. There are enough clever stylistic choices in the film to keep most viewers happy – including some surprising plot elements that caught me off guard in a give-you-goosebumps kind of way. Bad Times At The El Royale is good. So frustratingly good that its biggest sin might be in exposing the possibility of how much better it could have been.

Bottom Line: Bad Times At The El Royale is a nifty piece of dramaturgical theatre that unfortunately relies too often on underwritten characters as its crutch. 

Rating: 6.5/10 

Film Recipe: The Hateful Eight + Identity + Wait Until Dark + Suburbicon 

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The Hateful Eight (2015)

31 Dec

There is a moment during The Hateful Eight where a character quietly explains the difference between “justice” – wherein the facts are weighed and criminals are given a fair and lawful trial – and, “frontier justice” – where criminals are often shot dead in a fit of rage. “Justice” is orderly and carried out with logic and ensuring the least amount of harm as possible, while “frontier justice” is brutal, chaotic, and fuelled by emotion.

It’s obviously clear Quentin Tarantino is an advocate of the latter kind. 

The writer/director’s 8th film appropriately titled The Hateful Eight is essentially three hours of his signature, in-your-face, badass-to-the-limit screenplay. You know, the kind where you can just feel the narrative tension escalate with each passing moment. Where you know – without a doubt – things are going to get ugly, but you can’t seem to guess how or when.

Taking the form of a post-Civil War western set along a snowy Wyoming trail, The Hateful Eight starts off with two bounty hunters who just happen to cross paths with each other. Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson at his best), who is en route to a town called Red Rock when his horse dies, seeks the help of cowboy John “The Hangman” Ruth (an equally impressive Kurt Russell) who is transporting outlaw Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock where she will be tried and likely hanged. Domergue has a pretty price on her head, explains Ruth. A whopping $10,000, which makes The Hangman suspicious by default of any passersby including Warren and a drifter named Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who claims to be the new Red Rock sheriff.

In the world of the wild, wild west, one man’s word has a lot of weight, and the ability to trust fellow travelers or not can spell life or death on the frontier. Take into account the rampant racism between divided factions of the war that are still bubbling, and you have the ingredients for a suspenseful witch-hunt of a mystery. “One of them fellas is not what he says he is” says The Hangman as he tries to measure up each character’s motivations.  It’s in this climate of paranoia and racial tension where The Hateful Eight thrives. Every man (and woman) is looking out for him/herself and unlike Tarantino’s last film Django Unchainedit’s not so easy to tell the good guys apart from the bad ones.

There are essentially only two locations in The Hateful Eight: the harsh exterior of the winter trail, and Minnie’s Haberdashery, a sort of makeshift-inn for trustworthy travelers. In the hands of another director, this kind of a film with such minimal set pieces could feel like an eternity – especially with a running time of 3 + hours (case in point: The Turin Horse). Tarantino’s masterful writing however, flows effortlessly from one scene to the next. Though it clocks in at a whopping 187 minutes, Tarantino lets us get to know each character over the course of many small-talk conversations throughout the film’s first half. Quentin himself gives us a brechtian half-time voiceover, where he brings the audience to speed and chops up the narrative structure before throwing us headfirst into the film’s more violent and insanity-ridden second half. Such a postmodern interruption comes off a bit too jarring for a western, but part of The Hateful Eight’s fun lies within its unpredictable and often bloody surprises.

Shot in “Glorious 70mm Ultra Panavision” (an odd choice for such a minimalistic film), the film looks absolutely stunning in each and every shot. True, Quentin has scaled things back a bit from his epic and sprawling Django Unchained, but every frame here feels utilized within its 70mm space.  Performance-wise everyone is on-point, with Jennifer Jason Leigh being the lead scene-stealer. Supporting work by Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, James Park, Demian Bichir, and a few captivating moments with Zoe Bell, Channing Tatum, and Gene Jones are icing on the cake.

It’s true that all the major players in The Hateful Eight could have been instruments of “justice”, with all the criminals and do-gooders taking their rightful roles. But what Tarantino knows only too well is that watching everyone’s attempt at carrying out the good ol’ fashioned “frontier justice“, well…. it’s just a hell of a lot more fun.

Bottom Line: A throwback western that’s 100% Tarantino, The Hateful Eight is a heavily plotted, hitchcockian thriller that sizzles with anxiety and great performances throughout its lengthy runtime. 

Rating: 8/10

Film recipe: That opening scene in Inglorious Bastards – nazis + cowboys, + Seven Psychopaths + Rope + No Country For Old Men 

 

10 MOST ANTICIPATED FILMS 2015

2 Jan

Goodbye 2014 and hello to 2015.

 

Another great cinematic year has come and gone, and 2014 was one for the record books (you can check out my top 25 films of the year here). While we wait to see what film gets the Best Picture Oscar and who gets snubbed come February 22, lets take a look at some upcoming projects for 2015.

 

10 – Z For Zachariah 

Who’s in it – Margot Robbie, Chris Pine, Chiwetel Ejiofor. Directed By Craig Zobel.

Why? Zobel’s Compliance was one of the best micro-budget thrillers I had seen in a long time.  It looks like he is upping the ante here with some major A-list talent.

Release Date – Unknown for now, but I’ll be catching this at Sundance in late Jan

9 – STAR WARS EPISODE 7 

Who’s in it – All the original stars (Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill) along with an exciting batch of rising talent (Lupita Nyong’o, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, and John Boyega). Directed and written by JJ. Abrams.

Why? After the disappointing trilogy made up Episodes 1, 2 and 3, the pressure is on Abrams to revitalize the classic franchise and restore balance to the force (and our faith in big-budget franchises).  Besides, Hamill needs something to do with his career other than voice video games.

Release Date –  Dec 18 

 

8 – Black Mass 

Who’s in it – An ensemble cast of Johnny Depp, Juno Temple, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Sarsgaard, Sienna Miller, and Kevin Bacon. Directed by Scott Cooper.

Why? After Cooper’s terrific but terribly underrated Out Of The Furnace, I’m extremely curious to see how he handles this FBI crime novel adaptation with such a talented cast.

Release Date – an Oscar friendly Sept 18 

7 – While We Are Young / Mistress America 

Who’s in it – Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver / Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirk. Both films written and directed by Noah Baumbach.

Why? – Baumbach has two films in the pipeline for 2015, and they both look fantastic. While We Are Young received lots of praise after it’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival last September, and Mistress America is slated for a Sundance Film Festival premiere.

Release Date – March 27 / no word yet on a theatrical release for Mistress America, but I’ll catch it at Sundance in late Jan.

 

6- Everest 

Who’s in it – Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley, Josh Brolin, Robin Wright. Directed by Baltisar Kormakur.

Why? – The story about a group of mountain climbers becoming trapped on the world’s tallest peak during a snowstorm has me all sorts of excited. Plus, Jake Gyllenhaal.

Release Date – Sept 18 

 

5 – The Martian 

Who’s in it – Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Mara. Directed by Ridley Scott.

Why? – Besides the big-name cast and director, this adaptation about the colonization of mars could continue on the trail of smart Oscar-friendly sci-fi films like Gravity and Interstellar. Or it could be a total flop like The Counselor or Exodus: Gods and Kings.

Release Date – Nov 25

4 – The Revenant

Who’s in it – Leo Dicaprio, Tom Hardy. Directed by Alejandro Inarritu.

Why? Birdman showed that Inarritu could directed something in another genre besides the super-serious drama, and this western thriller will surely showcase the talent of two of today’s biggest actors.

Release Date –  Dec 25 

3 – The Hateful 8 

Who’s in it – Samuel Jackson (of course), Channing Tatum, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Zoe Bell, Bruce Dern. Directed by Quientin Tarintino.

Why? –  Besides being one of the most recognizable auteurs among non-cinephiles, Tarantino is one of those directors that just seems to get better with age. I’m curious to see how he tackles a more traditional western post-Django Unchained.

Release Date – Nov 13 

2  – Knight of Cups 

Who’s in it – Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Antonio Banderas, Cate Blanchett. Directed by Terrence Malick.

Why? Terrence Malick’s epic made my list last year only to be shelved for a Berlin Film Festival premiere in 2015. A teaser trailer shows Malick’s typical visual style paired with an eccentric cast and wild party tone reminiscent of Spring Breakers. Hopefully, it will be worth the extra wait.

Release Date  – Unknown for now but likely to have an awards run Late October or November

 

1 – Silence 

Who’s in it – Adam Driver (again!!), Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson. Directed by Martin Scorsese.

Why? – Scorsese’s adaptation of a Japanese novel about Christian priests enduring persecution overseas is sure to be one of his most personal and controversial films. And this is from the guy who directed Willem Dafoe as Jesus.

Release Date – Unknown, but likely sometime in November 

 

So there ya go. Good stuff on the horizon. What upcoming films are YOU most excited to see?

 

 

Stoker (2013)

26 Jan

Park Chan-wook has proved himself to be Korea’s version of Quentin Tarantino.  With a slew of acclaimed films under his belt (ThirstLady Vengeance) including a revenge cult classic (Oldboy), he is no stranger to the violent and macabre.  Stoker, his first English-language film, is a bit more on the tamer side, but by far his most intellectual and thought-provoking work.

The story revolves around an 18-year-old India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), whose father has passed away in a bizarre car wreck.  His wife, played by Nicole Kidman, arranges for her mysterious brother-in-law Charlie (Matthew Goode) to stay with the family in order to help them cope.  India is skeptical of her uncle whom she barley knows, and grows more suspicious when rumors float around saying that he is sleeping with her own mom.  To say anything more at this point would be spoiling the mystery behind this elusive family who all have their fair share of skeletons in the closet.

At its heart, Stoker is a psychological thriller, and the best kind you can ask for.  The limited amount of characters and slow pacing of the movie give the audience time to reflect and peer into the minds of the Stoker family.  The film is beautifully shot with eerie accompanying music composed by Clint Mansel.  Though it lacks the blood and carnage of previous movies directed by Park, Stoker is one of the best films of its genre I have seen. It is a suspenseful ride with more twists than your typical rollercoaster including an ending that blew me away.  I loved every minute of it.

stoker640

Rating: 8/10 

 
Similar to: Black Swan, The Shining, Psycho

Best films of 2012

27 Dec

2012 was a great year for film-lovers.

With a slew of veteran directors including Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg, Wes Anderson, Ridley Scott, Ang Lee, Peter Jackson, Robert Zemeckis, Tom Tykwer, The Wachowski siblings, Rian Johnson, P.T. Anderson, Ben Affleck, Sam Mendes, David O. Russell, and Tom Hooper all releasing films this year, there was no shortage of high-quality movies to choose from. Heck Steven Soderbergh, Tim Burton, and Joss Whedon each had two 2012 films.

This is why making a “best-of” list was no easy task, but after some thought here are my personal picks for the top 25 films of 2012 (meaning they had a widespread theatrical release from jan-dec).

25- Cabin In The Woods 

As cliche’ as it might seem, there is a subtle mix of playfulness and horror throughout Cabin In The Woods that makes it such a fun ride ride to see over and over again.

24 – Les Miserables 

The music, acting, and look of the film all work nicely together to create one of the most powerful musical adaptations I have seen in recent years.

23- The Dark Knight Rises

While it doesn’t quite have the thrills of it’s predecessor, Christopher Nolan’s third and final installment into the Dark Knight franchise is emotionally satisfying and clever with all the twists and turns that make the franchise unique among super-hero films. Even if they don’t make any logical sense.

 

22 – Cloud Atlas 

From the costumes to the cast to the six interwoven stories, everything about Cloud Atlas begs to be called epic.  While the first third of the film is a confusing mess of ideas and characters, things get straightened out nicely in the end once you figure out who is playing who and what planet they are on.  With such an ambitious project as this, it is really, really easy for things to go wrong. Miraculously, Cloud Atlas gets everything right.

21 – Skyfall 

Bond is back and better than ever in this wonderful addition to the 007 franchise.  Hopefully Daniel Craig will not hang up the suit quite yet…

21 – Compliance  

A simple concept brought to life with amazing performances with an even better nail-biter of a script.  This is the stuff great indie flicks are made from.

20- Chasing Ice 

The single most gorgeous-looking documentary I have ever seen.

19- Argo 

Great screenwriting and cinematography create a well-balanced political thriller. The great cast was the icing on the cake.

18- Carnage 

Four people arguing in a living room for hours might not seem like much, but when those four people are John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster, and Kate Winslet…….   things get interesting and dramatically hilarious.

17- Looper

Good movies are usually either intellectually, sensually or emotionally stimulating.  Looper manages to be all three at the same time.

End of Watch

While it might seem like a feature film about the TV show COPS, End of Watch is actually one of the most emotional movies I have seen all year.  Great chemistry from Gyllenhaal and Pena.

16- Seven Psychopaths 

An amazing cast mixed with an ever-unpredictable story makes for an offensively wild film. From the writer/director of the cult-favourite In Bruges.

15- Prometheus 

The epic and visually stunning prequel to Alien, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus proves you can reach the end of a journey looking for answers, only to have more questions that when you first started. The film’s many mysteries had Alien fans scratching their heads for ages, and left me wanting a sequel.

 

14- Headhunters 

Part heist-flick, part survival-drama, Headhunters tells the story of one man’s quest to steal a million-dollar painting. And what ultimately happens when things go sour.  If you are a fan of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series, don’t miss out on this.

13- The Master 

P.T. Anderson’s sprawling epic about the life of a  very peculiar WWII veteran. Both Phillip S. Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix give amazing performances and the cinematography is stunning.

12 – The Imposter 

The bizzare-but-true story about a missing Texas boy who winds up in Spain over three years later. This is the WTF documentary everyone will be talking about.

10 – Django Unchained 

Tarantino returns with a revenge/western/drama/shoot-em-up set in the South 2 years prior to the Civil War. It’s long and overly playful, but Django Unchained somehow manages to be one of the year’s most entertaining films (if you can get past the hefty amount of racial slurs and fake blood).

 

9-  The Hunt

8- Holy Motors 

Obscure and senseless, Holy Motors is a collage of surreal scenarios and situations that make up a thought-provoking and mesmerizing piece of cinema.

7 – Frances Ha 

6 – Silver Linings Playbook 

David O Russel cleverly mixes bi-polar disorders with the Philadelphia Eagle’s in this witty romantic comedy.  Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro, and Jennifer Lawrence are great, but the real treasure is seeing a chic-flick that is this entertaining without being cliche’.

5 – Killer Joe 

A low-budget crime thriller that hits all the right spots, and then some. Killer Joe boasts some of the best acting of the year, and a script that leaves you on the edge on your seat. You will never look at KFC the same way again.

4 – Moonrise Kingdom 

Wes Anderson’s magnificent drama about a boy and a girl who leave the world behind and set out together for adventure. Not only does the film look amazing, but Anderson has really outdone himself (again) with the set pieces, characters, use of music and brilliant screenplay.  Though it has an all-star cast, Moonrise never lets celebrity get in the way of it’s story and splendor.

3- Beasts of the Southern Wild 

A simple low-budget film that captures the innocence and curiosity of childhood, mixed with the drama and emotion of an entire community. This movie is brilliant, well directed and breathtakingly beautiful from start to finish.

 

2-  We Need To Talk About Kevin 

A powerfully gripping psychological thriller about a child who is…. different. This is one you will want to see a second time around.

1- It’s Such A Beautiful Day 

So there ya go. An honorable mention goes to 21 Jump Street for being the funniest movie of the year.

My picks for film categories can be seen HERE.

Feel free to disagree as there were so many other great films that I didn’t mention, and  if you want to take a look at what i’m most excited about in 2013, click HERE