The Hateful Eight Directed by: Quentin Tarantino Written by: Quentin Tarantino Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Walton Goggins
The Hateful Eight is Quentin Tarantino’s most punishing film, both in terms of length and content. His eighth feature is a three hour chamber drama that crams post-Civil War America into a cabin during a blizzard and watches as its characters tear each other apart. It seems made with a sinister glee that antagonizes the viewer more than it entertains, coaxing uncomfortable laughter and squirms as it becomes more and more sadistic.
Though much of The Hateful Eight takes place in the same room, it begins in the snowy Wyoming wilderness. A black Yankee soldier-turned bounty hunter named Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) crosses paths with a stagecoach carrying three white people: a driver, another bounty hunter and his bounty. Warren himself is hauling a few dead bounties with him, but the other bounty hunter, John Ruth (Kurt Russell), prides himself on taking his in alive so they can hang.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier Directed by: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo Written by: Christopher Maruks and Stephen McFeely (screenplay), Ed Brubaker (story), Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (comic book) Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Redford
Even with an admittedly heavy case of Marvel fatigue, I enjoyed the second installment in Captain America’s part of the franchise. There was an edge and spontaneity to both the story and its telling that made it feel like more than just an obligatory stepping stone to another Avengers. Hell, I enjoyed this one more than The Avengers.
The Winter Soldier centers on an internal struggle involving mass surveillance and gigantic drones. None of the characters are who they initially appear to be, except of course the good Captain (Chris Evans). He is the one consistent element in a story with twists that are often obvious but never obnoxious. (Spoilers) Yes, a major character who dies didn’t actually die. Yes, with just seconds left, the world is saved again.
Django Unchained Directed by: Quentin Tarantino Written by: Quentin Tarantino (screenplay) Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kerry Washington
Django, like the ‘D’ at the beginning of his name, is silent. This is no small feat, given that he is the main character in a Quentin Tarantino movie, and should be stopping to yak at any given opportunity, preferably before a burst of ultra-violence.
Of course there is plenty of bloodshed in Django Unchained, so much in fact that it paints a white plantation red, mostly with the blood of its owner and his employees. It is Tarantino’s second historical revenge fantasy in a row, following the revisionist WWII epic Inglourious Basterds. Here, though, he crucially refuses to revise the horrors of American slavery, and depicts them in ways that are startling and horrific. The blood from the shootouts may be gratuitous and expressionistic, but it’s the beating, dog mauling and whipping that feel brutally real even if the movie they are in is often highly stylized.
Pulp Fiction Directed by: Quentin Tarantino Written by: Quentin Tarantino (screenplay) Starring: John Travola, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman and Bruce Willis
It’s hard to weigh the merit of a movie like Pulp Fiction. Quentin Tarantino’s bloody chat-fest had a sudden and immediate impact on the landscape of American film, yet it’s still young in the eyes of the art form. It is a classic like all those old movies you associate with that word (some of which it references), yet it’s filled to the brim with sleaze.
Pulp Fiction forges its story of fragments of other movies, most of which wouldn’t have made it past the cutting room floor. There are heated exchanges about fast food in Europe, riffs on the sexual nature of foot massages and lengthy discussions on what a television pilot is. All of those happen in the first scene that hit men Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules have together.
After a similarly chatty opener where two lovebirds decide to rob a diner, these two hit men banter back and forth. Much has been made of the highly stylized dialogue, so much so that these types of conversations have earned this director his own label: “Tarantinoesque.”
When I heard that the venerable Martin Scorsese would be the executive producer and director of the new HBO show Boardwalk Empire this fall, it got me thinking. What would other directors do with the expanded storytelling capability of television? So I’ve decided to start a new segment dedicated to analyzing what an acclaimed film maker would do with a whole season (12-13 one hour episodes) on HBO or Showtime. I pick those networks because they are the only ones where you can be uncensored like the directors in their films.