Quentin Tarantino is a filmmaker who simply can't be ignored, especially when he lobs a three-hour wide-screen epic whodunit Western into the cinema. This strikingly entertaining film is packed with his trademark plot twists and dialogue that snaps and crackles in every direction imaginable. So even though it's mainly set in a single room, it's never boring. But with no discernible point, it also leaves the audience rather cold.
In the snowy Rockies of southern Wyoming, cavalry officer turned bounty hunter Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) hitches a ride on a stagecoach with shifty gunslinger John (Kurt Russell), who is escorting feisty outlaw Daisy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to collect the reward on her head and see her hanged. They also pick up lost new sheriff Chris (Walton Goggins) before an intense blizzard forces them to take shelter at a mountain lodge run by the suspicious Bob (Demian Bichir). Inside, hangman Oswaldo (Tim Roth), war veteran Sandy (Bruce Dern) and their mysterious friend Joe (Michael Madsen) are also waiting out the storm. And as these eight people circle around each other, it's clear that each of them wants the others dead.
No, there's not a single trustworthy person in this story, and Tarantino has a great time revealing the inner murkiness within each one. This gives the actors plenty of texture to work with, as they deliver their lines with knowing innuendo, razor-sharp wit and glowering loathing. The set-up feels somewhat belaboured, but the film's second half is a cracking Agatha Christie-style mystery as we wait for the first shot to be fired. With its single setting, it feels like a particularly nasty stage play, livened up by Tarantino's wordy writing, which drops in big issues like racism and sexism without ever quite grappling with them. And there's of course also a steady stream of vicious violence, including an extended flashback featuring Channing Tatum.
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Strong characters help hold the attention as this overcooked drama develops, but in the end it feels so concocted that it's difficult to believe. While there's plenty of potential in the premise, the film becomes distracted by irrelevant subplots that try to stir up some tension but never quite manage it. And for a movie about food, the cuisine is simply too abstract to be mouthwatering.
At the centre is Adam (Bradley Cooper), a bad boy chef whose partying ways ended his high-flying career in Paris. After a period of penance in New Orleans, he moves to London to start again, with the goal of finally getting his elusive third Michelin star. Since he has alienated his friends, he turns to Tony (Daniel Bruhl), a guy who always had a soft spot for him and happens to be running a posh restaurant, which Adam quickly takes over. He rustles up some old colleagues (Omar Sy and Riccardo Scamarcio) and hires hot-shot Helene (Sienna Miller) as his sous chef. But his demanding perfectionism is keeping things from running very smoothly.
This set-up is ripe for both black comedy and soul-searching drama, and yet writer Steven Knight throws in irrelevant sideroads including a mandated therapist (the wonderful Emma Thompson), a bitter rival (a jagged Matthew Rhys), a couple of randomly violent loan sharks and a precocious little girl. Even though the actors do what they can to make every scene intriguing, none of these story elements add anything to the overall film. Still, Cooper holds the movie together with sheer charisma, even if his sudden transition from absolute tyrant to cuddly sweetheart isn't terribly convincing. At least he adds some surprising textures to his scenes, and indulges in sparky banter with those around him. And while Miller is solid in her thankless role, even she can't breathe life into such a thinly developed romance.
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Although the plot isn't particularly original, a darkly internalised tone makes this low-key thriller oddly compelling. It may be the usual serial killer nastiness, but it also pays attention to earthier themes like morality and the futility of revenge. Meanwhile, Liam Neeson is able to combine his more recent action-hero persona with his serious acting chops this time. And writer-director Scott Frank infuses the film with moody grit, quietly subverting each cliche of the genre.
The action picks up eight years after Matt (Neeson) stopped drinking and quit the police force, following a shootout that went horribly wrong. It's now 1999, and New York is in the grip of Y2K paranoia. Matt is working as an unlicensed private detective who uses word-of-mouth to find clients. So Matt is intrigued when one of his 12-step friends (Boyd Holbrook) introduces his brother Kenny (Dan Stevens), a wealthy drug trafficker whose wife was kidnapped and then murdered even though he paid the ransom. As Matt digs into the case, he realises that the two killers (David Harbour and Adam David Thompson) have a left a string of similar victims in their wake, and that the murders are connected. Meanwhile, Matt takes in homeless teen TJ (Brian "Astro" Bradley), an observant kid who helps him work piece together the clues. And together they try to figure out where the killers will strike next.
This story unfolds with a remarkably gloomy tone, combining horrific violence with introspective drama. This mixture can feel rather jarring, especially as it wallows in the nastier side of human existence. Every character is tortured in more ways than one, with lost loves, physical afflictions and internal demons. Even the smaller side roles are packed with detail, including Olafur Darri Olafsson's creepy cemetery worker and Sebastian Roche's frazzled Russian mobster. All of this adds texture to the film, a welcome distraction from the grisly central plot, which is never played as a mystery, but rather as an inevitability.
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Clearly something went horribly wrong as this thriller was being made, because despite a solid cast, gorgeous locations and an intriguing premise, the film is an incoherent mess. Sure, it looks achingly cool, but there isn't a single moment when the characters' motivations make any sense. And there's never a hint of suspense or danger.
It doesn't help that the set-up revolves around two of the least cinematic things on earth: finances and computers. Timberlake plays Princeton grad student Richie, who runs a gambling website to pay his tuition but loses his savings when another site cheats him. So he heads to Costa Rica to confront the online casino boss Ivan (Affleck). Impressed with his initiative, Ivan offers him a job, and soon Richie has more cash than he can possibly spend. But for some reason, all he wants is Ivan's colleague-girlfriend Rebecca (Arterton). Then a nosey FBI agent (Mackie) forces Richie to help him take Ivan down.
Director Fuhrman showed considerable promise with another renegade loner in The Lincoln Lawyer, but this film simply refuses to fill in enough of the gaps. Nothing that happens here is remotely convincing, as the characters are continually thrust into half-developed scenarios. Perhaps there's a more coherent longer version out there, because this one feels like it was edited with a machete. Even as a cautionary tale about the dangers of greed, this story has nothing relevant to say.
Continue reading: Runner Runner Review
Tarantino takes an unusually comical approach to a provocative topic, and the result is as controversial as expected. And also startlingly hilarious. At its core, this is another revenge-themed thriller, but Tarantino's snappy, constantly surprising aproach spirals out to explore racial issues over the past 150 years with humour, drama and, of course, grisly violence.
Set two years before the American Civil War in 1858 Texas, the story centres on bounty hunter Schultz (Waltz), who offers the slave Django (Foxx) what seems like a fantasy job: to work with him to capture white criminals dead or alive. Usually dead. Sure enough, everyone is shocked to see a black man not only riding a horse but carrying a gun. When Django helps find three notorious outlaw brothers, he earns his freedom, and Schultz then offers to help free Django's enslaved wife (Washington). This involves staging an elaborate sting on her owner, the bloodthirsty Mississippi plantation owner Calvin (DiCaprio), who runs a ring of slaves who fight each other to the death. But Calvin's butler Stephen (Jackson) suspects that something is up.
Waltz and Foxx have terrific chemistry in the central roles, with Waltz's lively intelligence bouncing off Foxx's physical and emotional intensity. This gives the film an underlying drive that keeps us engaged through the blood-soaked violence as well as the more slapstick-style sequences (a KKK raid led by Johnson and Hill feels like a lost sequence from Blazing Saddles). But Tarantino's screenplay is beautifully constructed to even out the tone with exciting action, harrowing nastiness and some darkly involving drama. All while quietly exploring the twisted history of racial relations in America.
Continue reading: Django Unchained Review
In Minneapolis, Mitch (Damon) is horrified when his wife (Paltrow) comes home from a business trip to China, collapses with the flu and dies. But she's only the first of a series of similar cases around the world, and soon officials from the Centers for Disease Control (Winslet, Fishburne and Ehle) and the World Health Organisation (Cotillard) are on the case, trying to manage emerging clusters while tracing the disease back to its source. Meanwhile, a blog hack (Law) is pestering a San Francisco scientist (Gould) for a cure.
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John Crowley (Fraser) is a manager at a pharmaceutical company who hears about the innovative theories of Dr Robert Stonehill (Ford) for the treatment of Pompe Disease, a variation on muscular dystrophy. John and his wife Aileen (Russell) have two wheelchair-bound children (Droeger and Velazquez) with the condition, plus an older son (Hall) without it. So they all have a special interest in Stonehill's work. But the eccentric doctor isn't so easy to get on board, mainly because he needs a lot of money to continue his research.
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In Miami, all of the familiar bungling deputies from the TV show are part of the action, along with their hang-ups. Led by the short-shorts wearing Lieutenant Jim Dangle (Thomas Lennon), the inept Washoe County Sheriff's Department is "invited" to attend a national law enforcement convention in South Florida. But when the gang arrives, they quickly find themselves outclassed and left out of the convention's festivities. When a biohazard chemical is released at the convention, quarantining the nation's police force, Dangle and Company are the only uncontaminated law enforcement officers available to keep the streets of Miami safe.
Continue reading: Reno 911!: Miami Review
The list in this category is long, and the quality broad, ranging from To Sir, with Love (Sidney Poitier straightens up hooligans) to Sunset Park (Rhea Perlman coaches hoops!). Instead of sliding into pitfalls of predictability, writer Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, Beloved), who also directs, relies on straight, unforced dialogue delivered by a fine cast. Like many similar films, this one happens to be based on truth.
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Samuel L. Jackson (Unbreakable, Shaft) teams up with Lemmons again (he played the philandering husband in Eve's Bayou) to star as the disturbed and homeless Romulus. Thankfully, no easy explanation is ever uttered as to the nature of his psychosis. He lives partially obsessed with a fantasy world in which exotic dancers inspire his hands on the piano, and his ultimate nemesis resides in the Chrysler building.
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The story goes: Travolta is Chili Palmer, a small time Miami hood, a "shylock" whose job is essentially coercing money out of people. His boss sends Chili on a chase for some questionably-raised funds; in Vegas, another contact sends him to L.A. to track down an entirely unrelated debtor, Harry Zimm (Hackman). And there are a few drug dealers who have their payoff stuck in a locker at LAX.
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As near as I can tell, this is the story of Jjaks (Keanu Reeves, and no that's not a typo), his brother Sam (Vincent D'Onofrio, "Gomer Pyle" from Full Metal Jacket), and Sam's slutty new wife Freddie (Cameron Diaz). Everyone's pretty miserable (ostensibly having something to do with their humdrum Minnesota existence). And Sam and Jjaks fight a lot (ostensibly over Freddie).
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He's right, especially when describing his own meaningless sequel. Be Cool, the long-gestating follow up to Barry Sonnenfeld's hit gangster-in-paradise comedy Get Shorty, has been manufactured to the hilt to appeal to all demographics yet entertains none.
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