Friday, January 8, 2016

movie review: The Hateful Eight (70mm)

(reviews may contain spoilers for those that have never seen the film or are unfamiliar with the characters.)

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THE HATEFUL EIGHT – 70mm Roadshow Edition (2015)

Eight strangers take refuge in a lonesome roadhouse, waiting for a blizzard to pass. All they have to do is wait it out. But, that might be easier said than done.

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The Hateful Eight is Quentin Tarintino’s second homage to the Spaghetti Western genre.

The 70mm Roadshow edition includes an additional 20 minutes, with an opening Overture and Intermission, like the olden days of theater. While I could’ve done without the intermission, it was neat hearing Ennio Morricone’s overture music, which was straight out of his earlier works, such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and Once Upon a Time in the West.

Tarantino and Cinematographer Robert Richardson made the daunting decision to film this in Ultra Panavision 70 format.

The normal aspect ratio of high definition televisions is 1.78:1, meaning that for every foot tall it is, it’s nearly two feet wide. The Hateful Eight’s aspect ratio is 2.76:1, making it a short, but very wide image. This extremely wide screen lends itself to magnificent vistas, yet gives the cinematographer enough latitude to keep both actors in a closeup conversation.

To understand how unique that is, one has to look at the very short list of films shot in that format. The Hateful Eight is only the 11th film ever to be shot in UPV70, and the first since the Charlton Heston epic Khartoum, back in 1966, when I was a wee lad of one-year-old. All the lenses had to be rebuilt, and camera bodies were retrofitted to mount them.

The 70mm film stock adds a pleasing grain texture to the film (yes, I said grain!) which is something you don’t see in most of today’s digitally mastered films.

My theater seat was up near the projection booth, so I could actually hear the film passing through the projector; the sprockets methodically clicking along; adding to the old school atmosphere. 

When the film starts we’re treated to a long slow moving shot which takes us from a closeup of an old wooden cross to the rugged snow covered scenery of southwest Colorado. All that undisturbed whiteness actually gave me a chill, and I had to cover myself with my coat to keep warm.

But, with all that said about the scenic gorgeousness, you’d better soak in the first half hour of the film, because once that’s gone you’re pretty much cooped up inside a single-room roadhouse for the remainder. But, Richardsom makes good usage of the wide format inside; even in the extreme closeups.

The ensemble cast is incredible, including Academy Award nominees Samuel L Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern.

Jackson’s familiar sarcastic wit is riddled throughout the film, and plays well against the drier characters. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him nominated again for an Academy Award. (1995 – Best Supporting Actor – Pulp Fiction).

While all of Tarantino’s characters were fascinating, he seemed to take a particular interest in building up Maj. Marquis Warren’s back-story (Jackson), particularly when playing opposite Bruce Dern’s character, a former Confederate General.

Playing somewhat second fiddle to Jackson is Kurt Russell, as the bounty hunter John Ruth. While Jackson’s Warren is impeccably dressed, John Ruth looks more at home deep in the mountains, with his thick animal pelt coat, and big handlebar mustache. At 65-years-old, Russell still packs an impressive theatrical punch in his acting.

At first I didn’t care one way or the other for Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Daisy Domergue. It seemed like she was just along for the ride for most of the first half of the film. But, once the intermission was over, Domergue became more pivotal, including a very important exchange between Daisy and the local sheriff, (Walton Goggins).

Now a word about violence. Anybody whose either seen, or heard, about Tarantino’s films knows there’s going to be a fair amount of violence, and this was no exception. If you’re squeamish about blood, torture and general mayhem, The Hateful Eight probably isn’t for you. Or putting it another way, Count Dracula would be a well-fed 400 pound fat man if he’d drank all that blood shown in this film!

And I’d be remiss for not mentioning the foul language. While there wasn’t a huge variety of it, there was a tremendous usage of the word “nigger.”

I purposely spelled that out above to make a point.  If you’re offended by my single usage of the word in this review, you’ll be leaving the theater absolutely livid. Tarantino received quite a bit of heat for its liberal usage in Django Unchained. You might have thought he would have toned it down a bit here. But, it’s the exact opposite. Of course, Samuel L. Jackson gets in on the act too, so in retrospect I’m not sure why I was surprised.

There are a couple of death scenes which had theater goers laughing. I even chuckled a bit at Tarantino’s exaggeration of reality.

Besides the above-mentioned intermission, there were a couple other things I might have not done. Tarantino divided the film into six chapters, and took the time to display the chapter and chapter name on the screen. This added nothing, and broke up the flow.

Additionally, when we came out of the Intermission we were greeted with Tarantino’s voice reviewing some of what had just happened. Tarantino’s East Coast accent is more suited for a Jersey Mob flick, than a Spaghetti Western. I understand what he was trying to accomplish. But, it just sounded unnatural.

I haven’t been mesmerized by a three hour film in quite some time. I went in knowing it’d be violent, and I accepted that. It’s a stylized homage to the westerns of the late 1960s, not an attempt at portraying a real life story, which another theater-goer suggested to me after we were leaving.

If you particularly like westerns, I’d definitely seek this one out, and if you can see it in the roadshow version, choose that.

RATED: 8.5 out of 10 STARS

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The Hateful Eight is currently showing in nationwide release. A full listing of show times and locations can be found at Fandango.

The 70mm Roadshow Edition is in very limited release, and according to one of the workers at the Grand Lake Theater, they will be the only Bay Area theater showing the extended version in a few weeks.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

movie review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

star-wars-force-awakens-official-poster(reviews may contain spoilers for those that have never seen the film or are unfamiliar with the characters.)

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Over thirty years has passed since the epic battle around the Moon of Endor. Since then, the Dark Side has regained power with a new secret weapon which is designed to bring the Republic to its knees.

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It’s safe to say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the most anticipated film to hit the silver screen in quite some time.

In all honesty, I wasn’t necessarily as eager to run out and see this film, as I had been of the previous six. With the exception of Star Wars: A New Hope, I had seen them all on opening day.

Part of the reason was that ever since the announcement that J.J. Abrams would be helming the latest installment of the franchise I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was never a big fan of Lost, and I think it’s an abomination what he’s done to the Star Trek universe.

I am happy to say that Abrams pretty much stuck with the if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it mentality with SW:TFA, and didn’t try to rewrite canon. Had he done so, I think he’d have been mercilessly crucified by the fan base, as opposed to the Star Trek fanbase, which seems to have embraced the overused crutch of time travel to get rid of things he didn’t like.

But, with all that said, perhaps Abrams embraced that safe comfort zone a little too tightly.

SW:ANH started out with a battle in space around a desert world, where the forces of evil are looking for some stolen plans. The good guys escape the planet to deliver the plans to the Rebel Alliance where they launch a last ditch mission to destroy the ultimate weapon.

Flash forward 38 years later to SW:TFA. Forces of the Sith have come to a desert world to find some lost plans, and attack a defenseless world. Good guys go on a quest to bring a droid, which has the plans in its memory, to the latest incarnation of the Alliance, where an epic battle is waged to destroy an ultimate weapon. Along the way they stop by a cantina loaded with all sorts of creatures, and later someone dies.

Sound familiar?

This film was neither a remake, nor a reboot. It was supposed to be a continuation of the saga, so they could have stretched their creative minds a bit more with little damage to the franchise.

Right after the show’s familiar credits scrolled into the distance we were greeted with by Star Wars – the Next Generation.

Relatively little known John Boyega and Daisy Ridley easily step into the shoes of the new franchise standard-bearers. When Lucas cast SW:ANH he made the conscious effort to hire little known actors for Luke and Leia. I’m glad to see Abrams followed suit with Finn and Rey. Both characters have a genuine innocence to them, and I look forward to watching them grow as I did Luke and Leia three decades ago.

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is the new bad boy on the block, dressed all in black, with an odd helmet and faceplate which reminded me more of Shredder, from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, than Darth Vader, though we are force-fed an homage to Vader in case we didn’t already figure it out. Ren’s major trademark is his red lightsabre equipped with two small guards reminiscent of a pirate’s broadsword. I guess they felt the need to make it unique. But, it looked cheesy compared to Darth Maul’s double-bladed weapon.

Of the major players, I think Driver is going to really need to grow. Not necessarily his acting. But, the character itself. Throughout the film I kept looking for a break out moment. Frankly, I was more interested in the danced around back-story of the character than what actually took place on the screen. The penultimate encounter with Han Solo was predictable, though I’m not sure it could have been written any other way to further the plot along.

I have to admit at being disappointed at the lack of screen time and dialog for Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones, Wizards vs. Aliens). If Captain Phasma doesn’t have a major part down the road she’s going to be remembered as this trilogy’s Jar Jar Binks.

Six of the major cast members are reprising their roles. A cheer went up within the theater as we got our first glimpse of a graying Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and the silky haired Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). Despite the hair color and wrinkles, Ford hadn’t lost a step.

The banter between Solo and Rey was nicely done, and I became quickly comfortable with watching them, and I never really thought about it being newcomer and veteran, nor a passing of the baton, so to speak.

Mark Hamill’s screen time was extremely limited, at times seeming like a spinoff off Where’s Waldo? When we finally encounter Hamill he looks more like Santa Claus than the nimble Jedi we all knew and loved. I can only imagine he’s going to have a much more integral part.

Leia (Carrie Fisher) has dropped her royal, in favor or the rank of general.  Reluctantly, I’ll admit that the first time she appeared on screen I turned to the guy sitting next to me and said, “Boy, she didn’t age well.” I wasn’t expecting her to come out in the little leather number from Return of the Jedi. But, I wasn’t expecting the frumpy dressed woman I saw, who looked at times like she might have forgotten to stop by the makeup trailer that day.

Adding insult to injury, she seemed to be going through the motions when delivering her lines. She’s definitely been relegated to a supporting role this time around.

Last, and not least, the Laurel and Hardy of the droid world, C3-PO and R2-D2 are back. Joined by a small round BB-8, which must’ve made the toy makers happy.

So did I like the film? Yes, though I didn’t have that familiar shiver flashing up and down my spine as I do when I really enjoy a film.

What’s important to remember is that this was a foundation for Star Wars by Disney. We’ve got two years to go before we see which direction the Mouse is taking it.

In the meantime, they’re already gambling by bringing us a prequel next December. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, will takes us back to a time when many Bothans died bringing the Death Star plans to the Rebels. Not sure what to think of that.

RATED: 6.75 out of 10 STARS

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens is currently showing in nationwide release. A full listing of show times and locations can be found at Fandango.