Tuesday 23 January 2018

Cinema review: The Hateful Eight is a spectacle to enjoy

The Hateful Eight, Cert 18

Gore and humour: Kurt Russell as bounty hunter the Hangman in Quentin Tarantino's violent new western
Gore and humour: Kurt Russell as bounty hunter the Hangman in Quentin Tarantino's violent new western
Bolshoi Babylon
Firefight: Pilou Asbaek stars as a Danish commander on tour of duty in Afghanistan

Reviewed this week are The Hateful Eight, Bolshoi Babylon, Last Hijack and A War.

Quentin Tarantino's eighth film, a number helpfully pointed out in the opening credits, has all the elements we've come to expect from him; the genre homage, long scenes, long shots, great dialogue, fab score (Ennio Morricone) gore, humour and a mix of big stars, dusted off stars and newbies. These marvellous Tarantino-isms are present in abundance but mask an un-Quentin-ish weakness of plot.

This, his second western outing as writer and director, is homage to the huge Panavision westerns and is set in a snowy Wyoming at the end of the 19th century.

A bounty hunter called the Hangman (Kurt Russell) is bringing Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to her death. On the way they collect another bounty hunter, the Marquise (Samuel L Jackson) and former confederate soldier (Walton Goggins.) A blizzard demands an unscheduled stop in Minnie's Haberdashery where instead of Minnie they find Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir) who is already sheltering an Englishman (Tim Roth), an old Confederate General (Bruce Dern) and a cowboy (Michael Madsen).

Mostly shot in one room it's a whole lot of good actors delivering good lines with enthusiasm. The story is thin so the violence, almost cartoonish at times and lacking the contextual depth of Django Unchained or Inglourious Basterds, feels especially brutal. Tarantino is making his points and although it's too long, it is a spectacle to enjoy, a mix between The Canterbury Tales, Cluedo and spaghetti westerns.

4 stars


Now Showing

Bolshoi Babylon

Cert 12A

"There aren't many brands that represent Russia, one is the Bolshoi Theatre, another is the Kalashnikov." So opens the narration to Nick Read and Mark Franchetti's HBO documentary about the extraordinary events that have taken place in the Bolshoi Ballet in recent years. The film opens well, giving a good sense, via news footage, backstage filming and dancer interviews, of the enormous passion, near obsession, it takes to reach that level of balletic achievement.

Since the days of the USSR, the Bolshoi was presented as the official face of the state; this was where all dignitaries were brought, so it followed that there would be interest and interference in the running of the company from on high. The combination of passion, ambition and politics led to an increasingly fraught environment. Still, it was a shock when in January 2013, Sergei Filin, then the Ballet's artistic director, had acid thrown in his face and suffered serious injury. The company, which had always prided itself on putting on a beautiful face no matter what struggles went on behind closed doors, suddenly had all its dirty laundry aired in public.

After an evocative beginning, this becomes a dutiful but not exciting documentary. It's got gorgeous footage of ballet and some interesting insights about that world so whilst fans of ballet should find it fascinating, it might struggle to fully engage non-fans.

2 stars


Now Showing IFI

Last Hijack

Cert 12A

Many human issues can be attributed to ego, most specifically to how we want to be seen by other people. Looking for external validation instead of internal is at least contributory to every problem from bad behaviour in kids to war. It is certainly not the only reason why Mohamed has operated as a pirate off the coast of Somalia, but his need to be seen in a particular light is one of the reasons he cannot stop.

Bord Scannán na hEireann is one of the international elements behind this interesting documentary by film-makers Tommy Pallotta and Femke Walting. We meet Mohamed in the early stages of setting up another raid, his last in theory. Having assembled his crew it is a matter of waiting for the right ship to come by, then they'll attempt to board it and hold it and the crew to ransom. It's high risk, many pirates are dead or in jail, but life in Somalia is difficult so to many the high risk is worth it for the high reward.

Mohamed and his crew have already been successful and he claims to have been very rich at times but women, the good life and a heavy khat addiction have left him with little money and no desire to earn it by traditional methods.

Mohamed is under heavy pressure from his family, his parents who live in a more rural area with some of Mohamed's children who he barely knows, hope that he will move back and marry the daughter of one of the local families. A marriage deal is struck on condition that Mohamed give up his piracy and the marriage takes place with the understanding that if he goes back to hijacking his wife will leave.

Mohamed uses up all his money buying a flashy house and briefly returns to his former job in a quarry but he wants to be perceived a certain way.

The film mixes real footage and interviews with staged scenes. It also uses animation to fill in what they could not shoot, like raids and the tragedies that went into making Mohamed the man he is, for his growing up was done through times of war, death and fear. Seeing scenes like that animated does in a certain way heighten the effect of war on children.

Although a little messy in places, it's a fascinating look at world we would have little access to.

3 stars


Now Showing

A War

Cert: 15A

Tobias Lindholm showed with A Hijacking (2012) that the Danish film maker was deft at depicting both the immediate and far-reaching consequences of a crisis situation. That cool Scandinavian temperament is at work again in A War, a taut drama that feels genetically linked to A Hijacking, and not just in the understatement of its title. 

For starters, Pilou Asbaek also stars in this morality tale. He plays Commander Claus Pederson, leading a band of troops patrolling a remote rocky region of Taliban-ravaged Afghanistan. From the get-go, the environment hides lethal dangers in the form of mines and localised insurgency. Lindholm's camera hovers over the troops' shoulders, negotiating the glaring sun and uneven footing in kind.

Making matters even more tense are regular retreats back to Claus's family in Denmark where his wife Maria (Tuva Novotny) and three children long for his safe return. This ratchets up the stakes, and when a gun battle breaks out and Claus takes drastic measures, you find yourself siding with him under the heated circumstances.

The action, however, leads to civilian casualties and the second half of A War morphs into a courtroom drama as Claus is tried back in Denmark. A struggle to balance a duty to his family with that of the victims swells within him.

With precision, Lindholm presents three elements that make A War stand out from the crowd - an uncluttered plot, a complex philosophical argument and a clear-headed, almost documentarian tone.

Asbaek - who is about to be seen in the new season of Game of Thrones - exercises a brand of smouldering restraint in keeping with Lindholm's general aesthetic. Around him, he is ably supported by Novotny and a cast containing real-life Danish soldiers with experience of Afghanistan.

4 Stars


In selected cinemas

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