The Hateful Eight (2015) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

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Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh

A stagecoach travels through the wintry landscape. John Ruth (Russell) is a Bounty Hunter and his ‘Bounty” Daisy Domergue (Jason Leigh) are heading to the town of Red Rock, where Ruth will bring Daisy to justice (Death by Hanging). They meet Major Marquis Warren (Jackson) who is also a Bounty Hunter and on their travels they bump into Chris Mannix, who claims to be Red Rock’s new sheriff played by Walton Goggins (Django Unchained, The Bourne Identity)

Lost in a snow blizzard, the group seeks refuge at a stop off named “Minnie’s Haberdashery.” When they arrive they are greeted by unfamiliar faces named Bob (Demian Bichir), who claims to be looking after things while Minnie is gone; Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), christened the hangman of Red Rock, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a cow puncher and Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern)……but enough of that. The Hateful Eight is exactly what it is. A bunch of nasty individuals (8 to be precise) isolated in a cabin and you are left wondering when they will begin to turn on each other.

Now one of the elements I have always enjoyed in Tarantino’s catalogue is the long scenes (normally shot with one camera and in one take with excellent dialogue with some classic and memorable line) The bottom line is the dialogue isn’t that great in comparison to his previous films. It does help a lot that we do get a great cast (Samuel L Jackson, Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh) because without them I feel the movie would fall apart rather quickly.

Another element I noticed (Well Tarantino actually makes sure you know by including in the opening credits that the film was shot on 70mm widescreen and to be fair the landscape shots look great but there isn’t enough of these shots to justify the use of this film as most of the “action” takes place in a consumed cabin.

The music in any of Quentin Tarantino’s films has always been excellent and memorable. But don’t get your hopes up as there is little music (although the Daisy Domergue on the guitar is actually quite fitting and a nice little number sung by Jennifer Jason Leigh )The Score on the other hand did win Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score Ennio Morricone) and I can see why (or should that be I can hear why?)

I wouldn’t advise anyone not to give it a go if you haven’t watched “Quentin Tarantino’s 8th Film” I just don’t think it holds up to his “other 7” I can see inspiration from The Thing and even Quentin’s Resevoir Dogs in The Hateful Eight but I don’t feel I would revisit this movie in the near future.

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Nocturnal Animals (2016) Movie Review by John Walsh

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

 

Director: Tom Ford
Writers: Tom Ford (screenplay), Austin Wright (novel)
Stars: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon

Nocturnal Animals, the latest film from Tom Ford, focuses on the beautiful, seemingly rich and successful, Los Angeles gallery owner, Susan Morrow (Amy Adams). A west Texas debutant we learn later, she lives an extravagant lifestyle, with artwork aplenty hanging on the walls and other oddities dotted around her modern penthouse. It’s quickly apparent however that she’s deeply unhappy, with trouble brewing below the surface. She despises her job, is crippled with insomnia and her husband Hutton (Armie Hammer) has made some bad business decisions, leaving them teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. A strange package arrives at her residence and after giving herself a vicious looking paper cut in the process of opening it, we learn that within this is the manuscript of a new novel penned by her ex-husband. Dedicated to Susan, and having not spoken to him for the best part of 20 years, curiosity gets the better of her and she begins reading it, quickly becoming engrossed.

The focus then flips to the perspective of the novel, becoming a mini film within the larger main story. Following the Texas man, Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he sets out on a road trip with his wife and daughter. Driving in the dead of night, on an empty, pitch black highway, they become embroiled in a terrifying cat and mouse chase with degenerate rednecks. The three of them are attacked, the overly timid Tony is easily overpowered and both his wife/daughter are kidnapped and later killed, leaving him questioning his masculinity and power in the aftermath. The novel plays out as a sort of tragic, therapy session on their failed marriage. The events that transpire on screen during the fictitious scenes, a manifestation of the pain Edward felt after his split. He wants to make Susan aware of the suffering she caused him and it appears to work too, as she begins to look sorrowfully into her past.

The film utilises flashback scenes throughout to flesh out Susan’s past and we’re even offered a brief glimpse of the tumultuous relationship with her mother (Laura Linney). The latter prophetically telling Susan that a marriage between the two will be destined to failed and that Edward lacks mental strength, as well as the driven attitude to keep her happy. The highs and lows of her marriage are then played out, the brutal way she ends it giving an illuminating insight into the clear allegory of the novel. She’s seen questioning Edwards artistic ability, before ending their marriage prematurely and even going as far as aborting their baby behind his back. Meanwhile, in the novel, we continue to follow Tony as he enlists the help of gruff detective, Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), in an attempt to get justice. They investigate for a year, before finally narrowing in on two of the three the culprits, Lou and Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Quick justice is served shortly thereafter, with Bobby, who we learn is suffering from terminal lung cancer and in no mood for letting the scumbags off lightly, shooting the former dead, whilst helping to lure the ringleader Ray to his end. Tony corners him, and after a short, tense standoff, finally avenges his family’s death. There’s a rather bizarre moment afterwards, when he appears to shoot himself accidentally, before crawling outside and succumbing to his wound.

Following these forays into Edwards past, the true allegorical significance behind his literary doppelgängers tragedy and the wider story as a whole is revealed. The devastation felt by Tony from losing his family within the novel echoing the grief of the author losing his unborn baby and wife. The emotional turmoil, eventual killing of the rednecks and his own death, representative of Edwards grief over the years, the eventual beating of his inner demons and finally being able to move on with his life. The films ambiguous end scene features Susan being stood up by Edward, after requesting dinner with her former husband. A final confirmation perhaps that he has moved on from his troubled past.

Both Adams and Gyllenhaal do a fine job in this film. Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson though, put in the standout performances for me. The former referring to his character as a ‘grotesque sort of angel’. A perfect description for the calm, guiding influence his character provides to Tony. He’s also highly likeable, his devil may care attitude, thanks in part to terminal cancer, giving him an almost humorous brutality when dealing with the murderous rednecks. Johnson is almost unrecognisable in this role as the redneck plumber/rapist/killer. Sporting an authentic southern drawl and long, unkempt hair, not to mention a shaggy beard, that’s every bit as crazy looking as the maniacal look in his eyes. I couldn’t possibly write this review without giving mention to the highly memorable scene involving Ray and an outside toilet. If any further insight is needed into the arrogant nature of the character then look no further.

The film itself is highly stylistic in its visuals. Seamus McGarvey, skilfully providing a stark contrast between the barren, gritty, rural Texas and the lonely cityscapes of Los Angeles. From the artwork on the walls to the immaculate costume. Musically, the score is well refined with clear classical origins. Featuring some beautiful string arrangements. It does a good job of switching things up as the film jumps between the action based novel scenes and the slower, more emotional parts featuring Susan.

Ultimately, I’d love to say sit here and say that it’s a fantastic film, but unfortunately that would be a lie and I can’t. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad film, just merely above average to good. I highly enjoyed the thrilling trips the film took into Edwards brutal world and the acting throughout was fantastic. However, it lacked emotional substance of any kind and whilst I understood the underlying theme of the film. I just wasn’t invested in the two main protagonists enough to actually care.

The Infiltrator (2016) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

THE INFILTRATOR

Director: Brad Furman
Writers: Ellen Sue Brown (screenplay) (as Ellen Brown Furman), Robert Mazur (based on the book on)
Stars: Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger

Robert Mazur (Cranston) Is a U.S. Customs official who uncovers a money laundering scheme involving Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar (but more on Escobar in a little while.)

The Infiltrator takes place in the 1980s and gives us a gripping gritty inside look at what life is like for a ones who goes undercover to work with the drug cartel.

Mazur is close to retirement and could easily leave to spend time with his wife and kids, but takes this one last job (thanks to Emir Abreu, played by the excellent John Leguizamo). Which proves to be the toughest one yet as he poses as a money launderer to try and take down Pablo Escobar’s entire drug trafficking empire.

Cranston’s performance is enjoyable and tense (especially in the scenes when he is deep undercover playing his alter ego Bob Musella) you can sense that just one slip, just one wrong word will blow his cover as the Colombians are portrayed as serious paranoid individuals and as a group they don’t trust each other.

The Movie also touches on his personal life in and the impact of his undercover work. As mentioned earlier John Leguizamo gives an excellent performance as Emir Abreu and actor Yul Vazquez in a particularly memorable role. Joseph Gilgun is great as recruited criminal Dominic and Rubén Ochandiano stands out as dangerous, brutal, cocaine-laced Gonzalo Mora Jr. but its Benjamin Bratt (Traffic and Doctor Strange) as Roberto Alcaino who steals every scene. Bratt and Cranston along with Leguizamo and Diane Kruger really sell the contrasting criminal underworld and undercover life.

The only gripe I have with The Infiltrator is tagging Pablo Escobar in the Movie’s synopsis as part of the overall story. Escobar is merely mentioned in this movie and only shown discreetly in one scene. The main focus of the story is in fact is a lot more about what happened with BCCI (the UK’s Bank of Credit and Commerce International), the 7th largest private bank at that time.

Going into this movie, do not expect a high paced action thriller, this movie is more a character study and will keep you interested until the films climatic final scene.

Snowden (2016) Movie Review By Stephen McLaughlin

 

SNOWDEN.pngDirector: Oliver Stone
Writers: Kieran Fitzgerald (screenplay), Oliver Stone (screenplay)
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo

“This isn’t about terrorism, terrorism is the excuse. This is about economic and social control” – Edward Snowden (2013)

Although this movie was released back in September 2016 I have only just got round to watching acclaimed Director Oliver Stone’s Snowden.

The basis of the movie is a special forces dropout and now CIA computer analyst Edward Snowden (Gordon-Levitt) leaking thousands of illegal and classified surveillance technique documents distributed to the press of the real life events that went down between 2004 and 2013.

Most of the story flits back and forth as Snowden relates his story to documentary filmmaker Laura Poitros (Melissa Leo) a journalist Glenn Greenwald played by Zachary Quinto and Guardian journalist Ewan MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson) in a hotel in Hong Kong in 2013. Snowden makes it clear to the 3 journalists that the CIA will come after him and accepts the consequences of espionage and warns Poitros,Greenwald and MacAskill they will be coming for them too.

It’s Flashback time – Snowden works on various assignments across the U.S, and learns that the Government is using means to intrude on the privacy of the American people and further afield. Snowden works his way up into the highest circles of the U.S. intelligence community with the force of electronics and surveillance under Corbin O’Brian played by the brilliant Rhys Ifans.

When his revelations are published in the British newspaper The Guardian, which Greenwald and MacAskill worked for. Snowden goes on the run and ends up at Moscow International Airport just a few days after his story hits the Internet and in exile, a fugitive from what passes for American justice in the 21st century.

From what I’ve read online, Oliver Stone was initially reluctant to Direct the Edward Snowden story in any way, shape, or form. But Kucherena (Snowden’s real-life attorney in Russia) and GlennGreenwald themselves convinced  Stone and he agreed to do it, with Fitzgerald assisting him in the writing of the screenplay, and the result is one of the great films of 2016.

I’ll be the first to admit I knew OF the Edward Snowden story but having looked further into his real life you can see the striking resemblance with Gordon-Levitt. We get to see the real Snowden at the end of the film explaining why he did what he did and why coming back to America would  result in him not getting a fair trial.

The movie is a drama and I’m glad they kept this throughout and weren’t tempted to add action (which I was concerned about when Snowden went into hiding) I also have to commend the filmmakers for what looks like sticking to the facts and not “Hollywoodising” the story based on real events.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt did as good a job as any actor could and I was pleased with his performance and he is supported by a strong cast.

Hell or High Water (2016) Movie Review by John Walsh

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Director: David Mackenzie
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Stars: Dale Dickey, Ben Foster, Chris Pine

A classic cop and robbers tale with a modern twist. Hell or High Water is a pacy, and at times, highly absorbing, neo-western drama from talented Scottish director David Mackenzie. We follow the escapades of two brothers, reunited against the bank that’s threatening to foreclose their families oil rich farm. It’s a simplistic story, that packs a punch, questioning the morality of today’s society, the greed of banks and the human effect of the economic decline in south west Texas.

Very quickly, it becomes clear that the dialogue in this film is a star in and of itself. Nigh on every person with a speaking part has a way with words and a level of wit normally reserved for characters with chunkier roles more central to the main story. Following the first heist, one of the bank tellers is asked the question “Black or white?” by the investigating officer “Their skins or their souls?” is her response. An old man complains “This is crazy, ya’ll ain’t even Mexican” before cheekily responding to a question about having a gun. Even a disenfranchised cattle herder gets to have his say a short while later and does it was some panache. Bemoaning his antiquated profession and sympathising with his kids unwillingness to follow in his footsteps.

Chris Pine gives perhaps his best performance to date as the scruffy, unkempt looking Toby Howard. “I’ve been poor my whole life, till my parents and their parents before them. It’s like a disease, passing from generation to generation” we hear him say. He’s a man with a past and he’s looking to make amends. It’s for this sole reason that he enlists the help of his ex-con brother Tanner Howard (Ben Foster). They face a race against time to save the family property, which if successful, will provide Toby’s sons with the financial security he never had. It’s Pine’s character that devises the plan to rob the banks and he’s the brains behind the brawn of the older Tanner. Famed for his role as Captain Kirk, he couldn’t be more unrecognisable here.

It would be fair to say that the Howard brothers are not your typical bank robbers, only hitting the registers and stealing fairly low sums of money in each heist. They target the small, local branches of Texas Midlands Bank, spread out across the south west of the state in a deliberate attempt to remain under the radar of the FBI. They are successful in doing so and the chase is left to veteran Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his stoical partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham). “You may get to have some fun, before they send you off to the rocking chair just yet” we hear Alberto quip to Marcus as news of the heists break. Just weeks from retirement, the grizzled, wily, old veteran, with all the detective traits of a Colombo and the determination of a Harry Callaghan, is in no hurry to accept the quiet life. He sees a pattern in the robberies and persuades his long suffering partner Alberto to join him. Jeff Bridges incidentally, is able to slip into the character of Marcus with consummate ease. Not many are able to do the hardened, grizzly character better than Bridges and he manages to do so whilst providing plenty of wit and sardonic humour to boot.

Taylor Sheridan and David McKenzie really weave a beautiful story together here. Blurring the lines of morality as the movie goes on, the violence starts to increase and things begin to take a turn for the worse on both the perceived good and bad side of the line. His punchy dialogue really brings the film to life, adding an air of authenticity to the bonds of both the opposing pairs, with some cracking banter at times. Marcus continually jokes about his half Comanche partners heritage and Toby takes delight in telling his brother to “Drink up” after he complains about being given Mr. Pep instead of Dr. Pepper as “Only assholes drink Mr. Pep”.

As the film enters its final act the ‘leading quartet’ for want of a better word continue to share equal screen time and a fantastic synchronous scene plays out to the beautifully, melancholic lines of Gillian Welch’s ‘I’m Not Afraid to Die’. Toby and Tanner spend what could ultimately be their final day together, playfully fighting with each other, drinking beers whilst reminiscing and contemplating the day ahead. Meanwhile, Marcus and Alberto, likewise spend their the day and night staking out a potential heist target in almost abandoned town, that harkens back to the ghost towns of the old westerns. A special mention must be given to the visuals during this scene. They are stunning and amongst some of the best in the movie.

Speaking of visuals. Giles Nuttgens does an incredible job of making the south west Texas landscape every bit as much of a character as any of the stars in the film. The use of a predominantly beige, brownish, earthy palette and oversaturated image really helping to emphasis the harsh heat and dustiness of the arid landscape. Nick Cave and Warren Eillis’ score provides slow, contemplative piano and string arrangements with a healthy mixture of country rock ballads from the likes of Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt interspersed between. The juxtaposition between the two creates a perfect balance that really adds some emotional depth to the story.

Arrival (2016) Movie Review By John Walsh

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Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Eric Heisserer (screenplay), Ted Chiang (based on the story “Story of Your Life” written by)
Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Arrival in its most basic concept is a story of Alien ships arriving on Earth. Twelve of them to be precise, dotted around various different locations. It focuses on the ever more frantic attempts of two scientists, one a linguistic expert, Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and the other, an Astro physicist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), in their attempts to communicate with two large Alien creatures, before the worlds military declares all out war. Thankfully, at the heart of this sci-fi drama, is a considerably more complicated movie. Language is the key focus here, not the war or violent struggle for supremacy with galactic overlords that we normally see in films within this genre. It’s a wonderfully introspective look at humanity, how it deals with grief, compassion and most importantly communication.

Amy Adams, the standout performer in the film, delivers a confident, impressive performance as the linguistic professor tasked with the unenviable challenge of deciphering the alien language of two ‘Heptapod’, other worldly creatures, that seem resemble a cross between ‘Thing’ from the Addams Family and an Octopus. Louise has been asked to seek the answer to a simple question from the military, headed up by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker): What do you want? It doesn’t take her long to understand that written communication is required, with the Whale like vernacular proving impossible to translate. After a few visits with the otherworldly beings, she even manages to partly decipher their complex, inky circle, writing style. As both she and Ian face a race against time to convey the crucial question to the aliens, we see glimpses at the wider worlds growing uneasiness at the situation. With various news reports around the world flashing up on tv screens, providing regular updates on the ongoings of China, Russia and Pakistan. All of whom seem ready to nuke the visitors on their doorsteps at a moments notice throughout.

Louise is not short on emotional depth either. “I used to think this was the beginning of your story” we hear her narrate at the beginning of the film, whilst several visions of her young daughter, who sadly dies in her late teens play out. These visions reoccur, becoming more regular as her work aboard the shell gathers pace. These prove to be absolutely vital to the story and the key to finally transcribing the alien calligraphy. Adams never resorts to overacting in these delicate scenes, instead settling on using subtle expressions and body language to convey her mood and feelings perfectly. Her characters emotional conflict during these moments creates a deep undercurrent in the film, helping to steer it through a middle act that is often on the verge of lagging.

Bradford Young’s visuals are on point and absolutely spectacular. The black obelisk, shell of a ship is gargantuan in size, as it darts upward from the ground, though never actually touching it, every bit unnatural looking in stark contrast to the natural land that surrounds it, seemingly for miles. The first time it’s revealed is a thing of beauty, as the helicopter carrying the team to the site slips out from the fog that seems to cling to the air. The inside shots of the shell are not neglected either. Whether it be the equally foggy domain of the ‘Heptapods’, the beautiful inked rings they project onto the invisible barrier or the smooth, black alien interior of the walls or floor. It looks every bit an extraterrestrial vessel.

Also, how could I possibly finish talking about cinematography on this film without mentioning the gravity flipping ninety degrees as the team of scientists climb in for the first time? Young’s work on this only further increases my excitement for the forthcoming Han Solo standalone, which will see him apply his outstanding talents to the world of Star Wars. The brilliant visuals are equalled by Jóhann Jóhannsson’s wonderful score, which really brings an eerie sense of trepidation to the early encounters in the film and an equally powerful, mellower hit of sadness at the end.

And speaking of endings. The film has been described as ‘thinking persons sci-fi’ and given the slow, deliberate pace it takes throughout, not to mention Villeneuve’s penchant for gradually releasing information to his viewers, it really would be hard to disagree with such an assertion. Arrival has a rather major twist in the final act, which I’d prefer to leave unspoilt, it truly should be experienced in the moment to be fully appreciated.

What I will say is that the ‘eureka’ moment is not too dissimilar in style to Christoper Nolan’s Interstellar. It’s a better film than Interstellar though, succeeding where the former failed in being at once epic, and yet also introspective and intimate. We hear Adam’s uttering the prophetic words “Despite knowing the journey and where it leads, I embrace it and welcome every moment of it”. Bringing up the conclusion to the film, with Max Richter’s goosebump inducing music On the Nature of Daylight playing sombrely in the background. It’s a profoundly powerful and moving end to what is an excellent film.

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