Kong: Skull Island (2017)

2017 #39
Jordan Vogt-Roberts | 118 mins | cinema | 2.35:1 | USA, China, Australia & Canada / English | 12A / PG-13

Kong: Skull Island

The king of the giant apes returned to the big screen this year as part of Legendary’s MonsterVerse, which will see him tussle with Godzilla in three years’ time. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

This new incarnation of Kong wisely dodges being a third remake of the original classic, opting for a new story of how mankind first comes across the eponymous island and its super-sized inhabitants. Set in the ’70s as the Vietnam war comes to an end, a mixed group of scientists and military men head for the uncharted island to see what lies within, and a monstrous battle for survival ensues.

Skull Island is a monster B-movie realised with a modern blockbuster budget and a dose of class from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Its major thrills come from the dust-ups between humans and giant beasties, or giant beasties and other giant beasties, but these are executed with a verve and enthusiasm that renders them a constant delight. Vogt-Roberts unleashes his skill with a palpable sense of excitement for the material, never seeming to hold back as he fills the entire movie with cool imagery and vibrant colours. The period setting is well evoked, bringing the sensation of witnessing a certain kind of non-specific throwback to adventure and monster movies past, even as lashings of expert CGI realise this new vision. (Also: two monkey movies this year and both with an Apocalypse Now vibe? Coincidencetastic.)

A skull, on the island

There’s a game cast, too, with Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson, and, in particular, John C. Reilly having a whale of a time as just some of our adventurers. Between them they help navigate a tone that could’ve been a jumble but instead feels just right, neither too pompous nor too comical. It’s never so grounded that the ridiculous stuff feels silly; never so silly that any of it stops mattering.

Kong: Skull Island might be the most fun I’ve had at the cinema so far this year. I can’t wait to watch it again on Blu-ray, and in 3D this time — I’m hoping that’ll really show off the scale of the big ol’ monsters. At the end of the day it’s a B-movie about giant monsters hitting things, which is what has held me back from giving it full marks, but don’t be surprised if this ends up on my year-end top ten: it’s superb blockbuster entertainment.

4 out of 5

Kong: Skull Island is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK today.

My review was a bit short to have more than one picture, but here’s a bonus one of Brie Larson being badass:

Badass Brie

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The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

2017 #56
David Yates | 110 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | UK, USA & Canada / English* | 12 / PG-13

The Legend of Tarzan

Reviving or continuing well-known IPs as action-packed summer extravaganzas is the order of the day in modern blockbuster cinema — witness the likes of the 2009 Sherlock Holmes and 2013 Lone Ranger — so I suppose it was inevitable that someone would eventually attempt the same with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Lord of the Apes. As with the other films of its ilk, The Legend of Tarzan® (as its multiple title cards insist on calling it) is a mixed success.

Eschewing the “tell the origins (again)” form of most reboots, the film finds Tarzan long retired to England as Lord John Clayton III (Alexander Skarsgård) when he is invited back to Africa by the King of Belgium to observe the wonderful work being done there. Initially reluctant, John is persuaded to go by his now-wife Jane (Margot Robbie), who’s keen to revisit their old friends, and American agent George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), who suspects the Belgians of enslaving the Congolese people. Indeed, the whole invitation is actually a ruse, as Belgian envoy Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) intends to deliver John to tribal chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou), who has an axe to grind against Tarzan, in return for the diamonds that a near-bankrupt Belgium requires. Naturally, fighting and vine-swinging and sundry acts of derring-do ensue.

When it works, The Legend of Tarzan® is a straight-up old-fashioned adventure movie, albeit with slicker action sequences and created with lashings of CGI. When it doesn’t, it comes across as oddly muddled. As with so many blockbusters last year (Suicide Squad and Rogue One spring immediately to mind), it feels like it was chopped and changed a lot in the edit. It’s hard to pin down how exactly, but it’s something in the way it flows (or doesn’t) between scenes, or sometimes even within sequences. Considering that (just as with the other two examples I mentioned) there were reshoots, you think they’d’ve smoothed some of that out.

Me Tarzan, you jealous

Similarly, the effects are a distractingly mixed bag. A lot of the CGI is incredible — the animals look magnificent, for example; especially the gorillas, who are required to offer some kind of character as well as feature in action scenes. But the filmmakers have been overambitious in other areas. The film was mostly shot on soundstages, and the added-in backgrounds for outside stuff are painfully obvious much of the time. However, the worst bit is a sequence where Tarzan and friends swing on to a CG train that looks like it’s been borrowed from a 15-year-old computer game.

Fortunately the performances show a greater consistency. A tough training regime has left Skarsgård with the muscles required to look the part of a muscly jungle-man, but he also displays an adeptness for comedy — or, at least, a lightness of touch — that makes him an appealing hero. There’s a clear attempt to make Jane more than just a damsel in distress, albeit while still conforming to good ol’ Boys’ Own entertainment to some extent, and leading lady du jour Robbie helps give her character. Similarly, Samuel L. Jackson brings easy confidence to his American agent, who serves as a kind of sidekick to Tarzan for most of the movie, acting as comic relief and action scene back-up. If anyone’s underserved it’s the villains, with Waltz solid but giving the performance he always gives (surely he’s capable of more?) and Hounsou being somewhat underused — his character has a highly emotional reason for wanting Tarzan dead, but there’s little time to feel that when there are bigger villainous plans afoot.

He does look cool, though

Tonally the film reminded me a little of something like Superman Returns — a movie made a long time after a forebear and with a whole new cast, but intended as a sequel nonetheless. Only, where Superman Returns was a sequel to the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies, The Legend of Tarzan® is a sequel to a movie that doesn’t exist. Its fictitious forerunner is some kind of Tarzan ur-film, a non-specific version of the Tarzan and Jane story that ends with them moving to England and adopting his familial title. This film assumes we’re all familiar with that broad narrative, or familiar with enough to subsist on a few choice flashbacks anyway. And, actually, that’s fine if you do know the story — it certainly feels like we don’t need it going over again… even if, personally, the only version I’ve actually seen is the Disney one. But I do wonder what younger people made of it all, because it seems to me that Tarzan may have slipped somewhat from the general consciousness, so perhaps they’re less familiar with said backstory. Or maybe they’ve all seen the Disney film too.

Also like Superman Returns, The Legend of Tarzan® ends up as something of a well-intentioned muddle. Some viewers will lose patience with it for that, but I at least enjoyed the movie it wanted to be.

3 out of 5

The Legend of Tarzan is available on Sky Cinema from today.

* English isn’t the only language spoken but, from what I can ascertain (by which I mean “I read this”), during the subtitled bits they’re speaking Generic Semi-Fictional African Language. ^

The Ghostly Monthly Update for March 2017

If there’s something strange in your neighbourhood, who ya gonna call?

How about Scarlett Johansson in a skintight bodysuit? I’m sure plenty of people wouldn’t need something strange going on to want to make that call…


#30 Logan (2017)
#31 Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)
#32 Demolition (2015)
#32a Deadpool: No Good Deed (2017)
#33 Long Way North (2015), aka Tout en haut du monde
#34 Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)
#34a Hotel Chevalier (2007)
#35 The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
#36 Money Monster (2016)
#37 Room (2015)
#38 Warcraft (2016), aka Warcraft: The Beginning
#39 Kong: Skull Island (2017)
#40 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016)
#41 Ghostbusters (2016), aka Ghostbusters: Answer the Call
#42 Babe: Pig in the City (1998)
#43 The Monster Squad (1987)
#44 Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004), aka Kôkaku Kidôtai Inosensu
#45 Big Game (2014)
#46 Young Frankenstein (1974)
#47 Black Dynamite (2009)
#48 Ghost in the Shell (2017)
#49 Jackie Brown (1997)
Long Way North

Kong: Skull Island

Black Dynamite

.


  • I watched 20 new films this March, making it my largest month for nearly a year, since last April’s 21.
  • It’s far head of the March average (previously 12.3, now 13.1) and also passes the average of the last 12 months (previously 15, now 14.75).
  • In terms of my yearly goal, it’s behind where I was last year (two-thirds there at #67) but ahead of every other year (including 2015 — aka The Year of 200 Films — when March ended at #44).
  • This month’s Blindspot film: plugging one of the few gaps in my Tarantino viewing with Jackie Brown.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS film: Room. Normally I’d offer a brief comment, but I already reviewed it in full here.
  • I watched three films starring Samuel L. Jackson this month. Even for a fella as prolific as he is, that’s still quite a number.



The 22nd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
A tough contest this month between a couple of films I enjoyed an awful lot, but however much I was entertained by a giant ape beating up other giant monsters, the beautiful artistry of Long Way North just edges it today.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Not such a tricky choice here: easily the worst film I watched this month was the disappointing mess that was Warcraft.

Best Dialogue of the Month
You’d think any month with a Quentin Tarantino film in it would have this award sewn up, but not when in the presence of the genius that is Black Dynamite. I’d throw in a quote, but half of the magic is in the delivery.

Most Gratuitous Arse of the Month
Plenty of derrières on display this month, between Natalie Portman’s much-discussed bare behind in Hotel Chevalier, Scarlett Johansson’s extremely figure-hugging costumes in Ghost in the Shell, Bridget Fonda’s post-coital stroll in Jackie Brown, and Kong stomping around the place with nary a stitch on as well. But the fact someone bothered to draw the intimation of an arsehole on the dog in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence takes the biscuit.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Following a tip from Caz at Let’s Go to the Movies, I’ve been adding my reviews to IMDb of late. That paid dividends this month, with an extraordinary (for me) number of hits flowing towards Logan.



This blog’s 10th birthday celebrations continued (and concluded) this month by counting down my 100 favourite movies I’ve seen for the first time in the past ten years. If you missed it, you can read all about it here:


Things are beginning to look up for my Rewatchathon, as I actually rewatched more than one film this month…

#3 Gattaca (1997)
#4 The Nice Guys (2016)
#5 Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995)
#6 Ghost in the Shell (1995)
#7 Hook (1991)

I think I was too young to properly appreciate Gattaca when I first saw it. Now, I think it’s a five-star sci-fi drama/thriller, and it would’ve contended for a place on my 100 Favourites if I’d got this rewatch in a couple of years ago.

Truth be told, I only watched the first 15 minutes of Power Rangers (then my NOW TV subscription ended and it cut me off), so I probably shouldn’t count it… but I would’ve found another way to finish it if those 15 minutes hadn’t been utterly terrible, so I say it still counts because I’d clearly seen enough.

This was the first time I’d watched Hook since childhood and, a few moments and images aside, I barely remembered it at all. It has things going for it (the sets are incredible and many of the special effects are fantastic), but it’s definitely the worst Spielberg movie I’ve seen (1941 still awaits…)


A big year for the MCU kicks off: I’ll be reviewing Iron Fist, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 comes to the big screen (over here, at least).

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

2017 #16
Tim Burton | 127 mins | Blu-ray | 1.85:1 | UK, Belgium & USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

After his beloved grandpa Abe (Terence Stamp) dies in mysterious circumstances, Floridian teen Jake (Asa Butterfield) seeks closure by visiting the children’s home in Wales where his grandpa was raised. As a child, Abe regaled his grandson with tales of the home’s other residents and their fantastical abilities — tales which were completely true, as Jake discovers when he meets Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) and her peculiar wards.

The quickest route to defining the experience of watching Miss Peregrine is by referencing other films, if only in a broad sense. For starters, it’s adapted from a young adult fantasy-adventure novel, and there’s a definite shape to things which reflects other entries in that genre — the whole “ordinary kid discovers a fantasy world of incredible powers and approaching danger” type thing.

It’s also directed by Tim Burton, and does feel like a Tim Burton movie. However, what’s incredibly pleasant about that is it doesn’t feel aggressively Burtoneseque. As if in reaction to the blandness of his Planet of the Apes remake, much of Burton’s output since then has slipped towards self-parody, and suffered for it. Miss Peregrine has recognisable flourishes, undoubtedly, but is a little more restrained with how it deploys them. Some have criticised it for this, citing it as another example of Burton removing his unique stamp from the picture, much as he did with Apes, but I disagree.

Her special ability is being a badass

The final other work I would reference is the X-Men; in any incarnation, but the most relevant filmic one is probably First Class. Or not, because that was all about the establishing of Xavier’s school and the equivalent establishment here is already established. Nonetheless, it’s about a country house owned by a British matriarch-figure who cares for a gaggle of misfit kids with special powers. Rather than the X-Men’s potentially-violent array of action-ready skills, however, the ones on display here are a little more whimsical — like Emma (Ella Purnell), who’s lighter than air, or Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone), who can project his dreams through his eyes.

Also like X-Men, the threat comes from within this secretive world. The starter X-baddie is, of course, Magneto, a mutant seeking to use scientific methods to turn the whole world into mutants. Here, the baddie is Barron (Samuel L. Jackson), a peculiar seeking to use scientific methods to grant immortality to himself and his cronies. Part of their thing is eating people’s eyeballs, which has benefits for them — again, that’s quite Burtonesque… though a mite less whimsical.

The eyes have it

Being on board with this whole milieu is important to enjoying Miss Peregrine, because the film does spend a lot of time establishing it. For those not interested in world-building, the action-packed third act must be a long time coming. There is a lot to marvel at along the way though, and Burton keeps things pleasingly real in his filmmaking techniques: there’s a fight between two creatures that was created with stop-motion, while another sequence involved constructing underwater rigs, and the vast majority of Emma’s floating was achieved by dangling Purnell on wires. That’s not to say there’s no CGI — ironically, the foremost example is a sequence that could otherwise be considered a tribute to Ray Harryhausen — but Burton’s filmmaking encapsulates varied techniques to lend a satisfying physicality to much of the film.

On the whole Miss Peregrine seems to have received a rather muted response, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It might be best to qualify that by reiterating that it’s playing with a lot of things I enjoy — “X-Men by way of Tim Burton” sounds fantastic to me, and that’s not a bad definition of this movie. I’d even go as far as saying it’s his best work this millennium (though, in fairness, I still haven’t seen Big Fish. Well, it’s only 14 years old.) The shape of the story is no great shakes, but it’s built from magical elements and fantastical imagery, and a game cast of quality thesps hamming it up magnificently and eager youngsters with a slightly earnest likeability.

Let's go fly a kite

Actually, in many ways it reminds me of another heightened, stylised young-adult adaptation that suffered from a mixed reception. See you in 2029 for the Netflix re-adaptation, then?

4 out of 5

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is released on DVD & Blu-ray in the UK tomorrow.

Unbreakable (2000)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #95

Are you ready for the truth?

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 107 minutes
BBFC: 12
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 22nd November 2000 (USA)
UK Release: 29th December 2000
First Seen: DVD, 2001

Stars
Bruce Willis (Armageddon, Looper)
Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Avengers Assemble)
Robin Wright Penn (The Princess Bride, The Conspirator)

Director
M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Village)

Screenwriter
M. Night Shyamalan (Stuart Little, The Visit)

The Story
When security guard David Dunn is the only survivor of a train crash, and without a scratch on him, he encounters comic book fan Elijah Price, who has an unusual theory: that David is indestructible, a real-life superhero.

Our Hero
David Dunn is just an ordinary guy, with a low-key job and a wife and kid, but after his near-impossible feat of survival he begins to test himself. Could he be more remarkable than he ever imagined?

Our Villain
Spoilers! Which, considering this is an M. Night Shyamalan movie, is basically a red flag saying “here’s where the twist is”. All I’ll say is, keep an eye on David’s kid, Joseph. I mean, pointing a gun at your parent is never innocent, is it?

Best Supporting Character
Comic book art dealer Elijah Price was born with Type I osteogenesis imperfecta, a rare disease that makes his bones extremely fragile and prone to fracture. Losing himself in the world of comic book superheroes throughout his childhood, he develops a theory: that if he represents an extreme of human weakness, there must be someone at the opposite extreme…

Memorable Quote
Elijah: “Why is it, do you think, that of all the professions in the world you chose protection?”
David: “You are a very strange man.”
Elijah: “You could have been a tax accountant. You could have owned your own gym. You could have opened a chain of restaurants. You could’ve done of ten thousand things, but in the end, you chose to protect people. You made that decision, and I find that very, very interesting.”

Memorable Scene
As well as his indestructibility, David comes to believe he may have a form of ESP, that allows him to glimpse people’s criminal acts when he touches them. Encouraged by Elijah, he goes to a bustling train station, stands in the middle of the crowd, and holds out his arms…

Next time…
Reportedly the plot of Unbreakable was merely Act One of Shyamalan’s original concept, until it wound up expanding into an entire movie. Talk of a sequel and/or trilogy used to occur regularly, but Shyamalan made a bunch of crap no one liked instead. 16 years on, I guess hopes of a continuation are long dead.

Awards
1 Saturn nomination (Action/Adventure/Thriller Film)

What the Critics Said
The Sixth Sense was no fluke. Unbreakable, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan’s dazzling reunion with Bruce Willis confirms he’s one of the most brilliant filmmakers working today. […] The deliberately paced Unbreakable, make no mistake about it, is a vehicle form-fitted to Bruce Willis’ burgeoning gifts as an uncommonly subtle and affecting actor. Willis should get the Oscar nomination he deserved for The Sixth Sense, and Jackson’s enigmatic Elijah – who has devoted his life to searching for the sole survivor of a disaster, for reasons that won’t be explained here – is equally commanding in a difficult if somewhat underwritten role.” — Lou Lumenick, New York Post

Score: 68%

What Quentin Tarantino Says
“The final film, alphabetically, on my top twenty list is M. Night Shamalamadingdong’s Unbreakable, which I actually think, 1) not only has Bruce Willis’ best performance on film that he’s ever given. I think he’s absolutely magnificent in the film. It also is a brilliant retelling of the Superman mythology. In fact, so much so that, to me, the film was very obscure when it came out as far as what it was about. I actually think they did themselves a disservice, because you can actually break down what the film is about by basically one sentence, that I should think would’ve proved far more intriguing than their ad campaign, which is basically, “what if Superman was here on Earth and didn’t know he was Superman?”, which is what the film is about. Course, you don’t know that until actually you see the movie. Anyway, Unbreakable is, I actually think, one of the masterpieces of our time.” — Quentin Tarantino’s Favourite Movies from 1992 to 2009

What the Public Say
“The story is unique… I mean we see stories about superheroes everywhere… everywhere, and despite things here and there changed, they are still the same stories we have heard a thousand times before. This film had an original story that was both compelling and intense. The use of the camera angles is so well done it is a shock that Unbreakable is not at the top of everyone’s favorite Shyamalan film. It is masked under the presumption that it is moving slowly, because in reality… a lot is going on.” — Dave, Dave Examines Movies

Verdict

Some people view Unbreakable as the start of M. Night Shyamalan’s inexorable quality slide after the debut peak of The Sixth Sense (not that it was his debut). Those people are wrong. Partly because that degeneration doesn’t really start until the final act of The Village; partly because Unbreakable is Shyamalan’s best film. We’ve now had countless big-screen takes on superhero mythology, but none are quite like this. Man of Steel may have attempted to ask “what would happen if Superman were real?”, but it’s Unbreakable that better answers that question. With subtle performances, including arguably a career-best turn from Bruce Willis, and a plausible handling of its fantastical material, which nonetheless develops into a satisfying climax, Unbreakable is still one of the most original and best superhero movies ever made.

#96 will be… gunpowder, treason, and plot.

Deep Blue Sea (1999)

2016 #138
Renny Harlin | 101 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Deep Blue SeaDeep Blue Sea is Terence Davies’ adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play about the wife of a judge getting caught in a self-destructive love affair with an RAF pilot.

No, wait, sorry — that’s The Deep Blue Sea. The non-definitive-article version is a sci-fi action-thriller about a research facility that’s created hyper-intelligent sharks which escape and try to kill the scientists. So pretty similar movies then, really. This one was thoroughly slated on its initial release, so I spent a good long while completely ignoring it, but at some point in the last few years it seems to have become a guilty pleasure favourite for many. Does it merit this reappraisal?

There is definitely a level of “so bad it’s good” about it. It’s definitely not a good movie in the traditional sense, but it is fun; and unlike, say, Armageddon, it’s clearly not taking itself too seriously. Nicely, it gets by without the constant winks-and-nods at the audience you get in today’s deliberately-trashy genre movies, which is, bizarrely, a more mature way to handle this kind of material.

Plus, it’s from that tipping point in modern film history between practical effects and CGI, so there are some nice stunts and life-size animatronic sharks, but also some weak computer graphics. That said, because director Renny Harlin limits the CG to underwater sequences, some of the sins are covered. Or put another way: it’s not great, but it still looks better than Sharknado. (That might seem like damning with faint praise, but this is 1999 we’re talking about — still two years before The Mummy Returns and its CG The Rock abomination that someone thought was OK to release in a big-budget summer tentpole.)I'm sure he just want to be friends

Ultimately, it’s a hard movie to rate. On the one hand, it’s not particularly good; on the other, with a mix of not taking itself too seriously and a few so-bad-it’s-good moments, it becomes a fun watch. I err towards generosity because, while it’s not a ‘quality’ movie, it is an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.

3 out of 5

Pulp Fiction (1994)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #71

You won’t know the facts
until you see the fiction.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 154 minutes
BBFC: 18 (uncut, 1994) | 18 (cut on video, 1995) | 18 (uncut on video, 2011)
MPAA: R

Original Release: 10th September 1994 (South Korea)
US Release: 14th October 1994
UK Release: 21st October 1994
First Seen: TV, 18th December 1999 (probably)
(I would’ve guessed several years later than that, but I definitely watched it on BBC Two and I definitely wasn’t 18, so (with reference to the BBC Genome Project) this is the only plausible option. That’s thrown all of my “first seen” guesses into doubt now…)

Stars
John Travolta (Grease, Face/Off)
Samuel L. Jackson (Loaded Weapon 1, Unbreakable)
Uma Thurman (Dangerous Liaisons, Gattaca)
Ving Rhames (Dave, Mission: Impossible)
Bruce Willis (Die Hard, The Fifth Element)

Director
Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill)

Screenwriter
Quentin Tarantino (From Dusk Till Dawn, Jackie Brown)

Story by
Quentin Tarantino (Natural Born Killers, The Hateful Eight)
Roger Avary (Killing Zoe, The Rules of Attraction)

The Story
A chronologically-shuffled collection of interconnected short crime stories, including a hitman who has to take his boss’ wife for a nice night out, a boxer who refuses to throw a fight, the clean-up after a misfire, and a diner hold-up gone sideways.

Our Heroes & Villains
Most films can be divvied up into heroes and villains one way or another — I’ve certainly managed it for the previous 70 films in this list. Pulp Fiction muddies its waters considerably, with criminals for heroes at the best of times, and the “short story collection” style meaning there’s an abundance of characters anyway, some of whom arguably change sides from one tale to the next. Nonetheless, you’d have to point to hitmen Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield, and their ever-so-Tarantino rambling conversations about nothing and everything, as the film’s primary duo.

Best Supporting Character
Christopher Walken’s cameo turn as an army vet passing down a watch with an… unusual history. (You might argue for Harvey Keitel’s character, but his Direct Line adverts have rather soured that.)

Memorable Quote
Vincent: “You know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?”
Jules: “They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?”
Vincent: “No man, they got the metric system. They wouldn’t know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.”
Jules: “Then what do they call it?”
Vincent: “They call it a Royale with Cheese.”
Jules: “Royale with Cheese. What do they call a Big Mac?”
Vincent: “Big Mac’s a Big Mac, but they call it Le Big Mac.”
Jules: “Le Big Mac. What do they call a Whopper?”
Vincent: “I don’t know, I didn’t go into Burger King.”

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“You mind if I have some of your tasty beverage to wash this down?” — Jules

Memorable Scene
Uma Thurman and John Travolta dancing — about as memorable a movie moment as there is.

Memorable Music
Famously, Tarantino never used to use original music (that’s now changed with his Ennio Morricone collaborations, of course), instead selecting tracks from his record collection — but his choices were so eclectic, obscure, and personal that many of them are now most associated with the films he put them in. Stand outs in Pulp Fiction include the title credits track, Dick Dale’s version of Misirlou; the song Mia and Vincent dance to, You Never Can Tell by Chuck Berry; and Urge Overkill’s cover of Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon.

Making of
The famous Bible passage memorised by Jules is mostly fictional. While one line is similar to text from the book, apparently the speech is almost word-for-word identical to the opening scene of the Sonny Chiba movie Karate Kiba.

Next time…
Travolta’s character, Vincent Vega, is supposedly the brother of Michael Madsen’s character from Reservoir Dogs, and at one time Tarantino was planning a movie starring the pair. It never materialised, obviously. There’s also the theory that all of Tarantino’s films take place in the same universe, which the director himself has confirmed.

Awards
Won the Palme d’Or
1 Oscar (Original Screenplay)
6 Oscar nominations (Picture, Actor (John Travolta), Supporting Actor (Samuel L. Jackson), Supporting Actress (Uma Thurman), Director, Editing)
2 BAFTAs (Supporting Actor (Samuel L. Jackson), Original Screenplay)
7 BAFTA nominations (Film, Actor (John Travolta), Actress (Uma Thurman), Director, Cinematography, Editing, Sound)
1 Saturn Award (Action/Adventure/Thriller Film)
2 MTV Movie Awards (Movie, Dance Sequence)
4 MTV Movie Awards nominations (including On-Screen Duo (Samuel L. Jackson & John Travolta) and Movie Song (Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon))
1 American Comedy Awards nomination (Funniest Supporting Actress (Amanda Plummer))

What the Critics Said
“this dizzily convoluted noir epic — one of the year’s best and most wildly inventive American movies — plunges us into a kind of retro-nightmare fantasy land. In Pulp Fiction, time keeps looping back on itself and we’re trapped in a cul-de-sac of double-crosses, absurdity, arousal and danger, never completely sure of where anyone’s going or why. [It] is shockingly violent, provocatively obscene and profane. It won’t just offend some audiences; it will offend the living hell out of them. Tarantino intends to rile people up. But it doesn’t feel like the usual high-tech, nasty blood-and-guts movie thriller […] This movie gets its charge not from action pyrotechnics but from its electric barrage of language, wisecracks and dialogue, from the mordant ’70s classicism of its long-take camera style and its smart, offbeat, strangely sexy cast.” — Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

Score: 94%

What the Public Say
Pulp Fiction begins at its end. It is cyclical but we don’t realise this until we come to its final moments. Like many of Tarantino’s films, it is episodic and split into sections that overlap in both time and plot. It is far from linear; several threads occurring simultaneously, woven together by chance meetings, coincidence and common acquaintances. Travolta’s Vincent Vega is both alive and dead at the end of the film, such is the genius of the script. [It] is a film that demands a viewer’s attention, engagement and use of their brain to put the pieces of the puzzle together.” — Behind the Seens

Verdict

A defining movie for the American indie/auteur boom of the late ’80s and early ’90s, and consequently one of the most influential films of the ’90s… but it is itself heavily influenced by and recreated from styles and genres of the past… and yet, despite those two reflective sides, it’s not quite like anything else — Pulp Fiction is a rule unto itself. In only his second feature, Tarantino’s direction is remarkably self-assured; rarely flashy or showy, but not simplistic or uninteresting either. It’s a film where the famed dialogue is as vital as the characters’ actions, but it’s not one that’s solely driven by people talking to each other. Events interrupt them shooting the breeze, but it’s also them shooting the breeze that drives the action. It’s a film of many opposing facets, then, which is quite possibly what keeps it fascinating — almost as an incidental addition to the humour and style that keep it entertaining.

#72 will have snakes… why did it have to have snakes?

Barely Lethal (2015)

2016 #49
Kyle Newman | 95 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Barely LethalHailee Steinfeld stars as a teenage girl raised from childhood by a top-secret government organisation to be an expert agent, but who has always longed for a more normal experience. When the organisation thinks she’s died on a mission, she uses it as a chance to have that normal life. Researching the high school experience from teen movies, she heads off to a typical US high school… and finds life isn’t quite like the movies. Though it is a bit, but it’s allowed to be so long as you keep referencing the movies you’re riffing off… right? Oh, and of course her old life keeps intruding, in the form of people wanting to kill her ‘n’ all that.

Barely Lethal (that’s a pun on “barely legal” rather than a synonym for “mostly harmless, incidentally) was very poorly reviewed by critics, and I don’t know that audiences gave it that much better a reception, but at this point that works in its favour. You see, its production values are a little cheap and cheerful (despite a recognisable cast that also includes Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Alba, and Sophie Turner), and sometimes it really falters with an overuse of clichés (is it OK to reference that they’re clichés, or if you point out you’re using a cliché is it still bad because you are still using that cliché?). But if its establishing concept sounds like something you might enjoy, and you go in with suitably lowered expectations, then I think there’s a fair chance you’d find it to be a frequently amusing, occasionally very funny, and sometimes quite sweet high school comedy — with added doses of action comedy for good measure. There’s even one great scene (which is more than many a “very good” film can claim); the kind of scene that, when it happens, is so right it feels like kind of an obvious idea, but I’ve never seen it done before (it kinda requires a premise like this to even work) and is pretty faultlessly executed.

In terms of pure, simple, for-what-it-is enjoyability, there’s part of me that wants to go out on a limb and say Barely Lethal just edges a 4… but the critical part of my brain points to those parts that are clunky, overfamiliar, or underdeveloped. I did think it was mostly undemanding fun, though.

3 out of 5

The Incredibles (2004)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #44

Expect the incredible.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 115 minutes
BBFC: U
MPAA: PG

Original Release: 5th November 2004 (USA)
UK Release: 26th November 2004
First Seen: DVD, 2005

Stars
Craig T. Nelson (Poltergeist, Action Jackson)
Holly Hunter (Raising Arizona, The Piano)
Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Snakes on a Plane)
Jason Lee (Mallrats, Alvin and the Chipmunks)

Director
Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol)

Screenwriter
Brad Bird (*batteries not included, Ratatouille)
(I bet you could count on one hand the number of Western animated movies written by one person.)

The Story
After public opinion forced superheroes into a civilian relocation programme, Bob and Helen Parr — formerly Mr Incredible and Elastigirl — live a quiet domestic life with their three children. Bob is dissatisfied, however, and easily tempted back to heroic ways by a call to defeat an evil robot. When it emerges this is part of a plan to kill retired superheroes and give powers to everyone in the world, Bob’s wife and superpowered kids must enter the fray to save the world.

Our Heroes
The fantastic four titular heroes: Bob Parr, aka Mr Incredible, who has super strength and limited invulnerability; his wife Helen, aka Elastigirl, who can stretch her body like rubber; their daughter Violet, who can become invisible and generate a force shield; and her younger brother Dash, who has super-speed (name/power coincidencetastic!) There’s also their chum Lucius Best, aka Frozone, who can form ice from the air. He’s very cool, hence casting Samuel L. Jackson.

Our Villain
Disillusioned superhero fanboy Buddy Pine, who grew up and used technology to give himself powers, dubbing himself Syndrome. Wants to give everyone in the world powers, because when everyone’s super, no one will be.

Best Supporting Character
Fashion designer Edna Mode, who makes the superheroes’ costumes. Inspired by Hollywood costume designer Edith Head, Bird wanted Lily Tomlin to voice her, and provided an example of how she should sound. Tomlin thought it was perfect, so she instead persuaded Bird to play the role himself.

Memorable Quote
“No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved! You know, for a little bit? I feel like the maid — ‘I just cleaned up this mess! Can we keep it clean for ten minutes?!’” — Mr. Incredible

Memorable Scene
After tearing his old costume, Bob visits Edna for a new one. He wants a cape. Cue montage of why capes are a bad idea.

Technical Wizardry
The film presented a whole host of new technical challenges for Pixar, not least fully animating a whole cast of humans for the first time — they had to develop new technology to animate detailed anatomy, clothing, skin, and hair. The latter was a particular challenge. On Monsters, Inc., the animators persuaded director Pete Docter to give Boo pigtails to make her hair easier to animate, but Brad Bird accepted no such compromises, particularly as Violet’s long, face-covering hair was integral to her character — and it had to be depicted underwater and blowing in the wind, too. Ultimately, Violet’s hair was only successfully animated toward the end of production.

Next time…
One of the few Pixar sequels people actually wanted, The Incredibles 2 is in development for a 2019 release. That’s only a 15-year wait.

Awards
2 Oscars (Animated Film, Sound Editing)
2 Oscar nominations (Original Screenplay, Sound Mixing)
1 BAFTA Children’s Award (Best Film)
10 Annie Awards (Feature, Directing, Writing, Voice Acting (Brad Bird), Music, Production Design, Animated Effects, Character Animation, Character Design, Storyboarding)
6 Annie nominations (Voice Acting (Samuel L. Jackson), Character Animation (again, x3), Character Design (again), Storyboarding (again))
1 Saturn Award (Animated Film)
2 Saturn nominations (Writer, Music)
Won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form

What the Critics Said
“what really makes The Incredibles work is the wit of Bird [though] much of it will be over the heads of very young viewers who account for so much repeat business. Bird’s satiric take on suburbia, conformity and forced notions of equality is surprisingly sophisticated and biting for an animated feature, matched by a visual panache that is often breathtaking.” — Kevin Lally, Film Journal International

Score: 97%

What the Public Say
“Most Disney films are about people meeting and falling in love. Incredibles is one of the only ones I can think of about how important marriage is. It shows a couple fighting, getting along, and working together.” — Rachel Wagner, Reviewing All 54 Disney Animated Films and More!

Verdict

Even before the present glut of big-screen super-heroics, Pixar were in on the game with this affectionate genre entry. Writer-director Brad Bird mixes together classical superhero antics with elements of 1960s spy-fi to create a retro world of optimistic heroics and larger-than-life villainy — at odds with the dark-and-serious tone of so many superhero movies of the past 17+ years, but all the more memorable for it. It’s also great at the kinds of things Pixar is known for. The combination means it transcends both the kids’ animation and superhero subgenres.

#45 will be… keeping up with the Joneses.

The Hateful Eight (2015)

2016 #89
Quentin Tarantino | 168 mins | Blu-ray | 2.76:1 | USA / English & Spanish | 18 / R

Quentin Tarantino hadn’t made a film in the same genre as his preceding movie for almost 20 years when The Hateful Eight came out — his second go-round with the Western genre, after the Spaghetti-ish thrills of Django Unchained three years earlier. Aside from the setting and its accoutrements, however, The Hateful Eight has more in common with Tarantino’s debut feature, Reservoir Dogs.

Wyoming, sometime after the Civil War: bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) flags down a stagecoach driven by O.B. (James Parks), looking for transport to Red Rock. Inside is fellow bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) with his latest catch, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who’s worth $10,000 — naturally, Ruth is suspicious of Warren’s motives. Later, they pick up Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins), who claims he’s to be sworn in as the new sheriff of Red Rock — also of great suspicion to Ruth. As a blizzard chases them, the quintet seek shelter at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a rest spot Major Warren has clearly visited many times before. However, Minnie isn’t home, and care of her establishment has been left in the hands of Bob (Demián Bichir). Inside, they find fellow travellers Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern). Ruth doesn’t trust a’one of them — and as they settle down to ride out the blizzard, it turns out he’s right about someone…

I’m not the first to observe that The Hateful Eight actually functions like a murder mystery, Agatha Christie style. It might be easy to miss because the film doesn’t begin with a murder or feature a detective, but then neither do all of Christie’s stories. Instead, there’s a long period setting up all the players and suggesting their motivations, and then eventually the proverbial does hit the metaphorical fan, after which deductions must be made. And it’s all in a remote, isolated location which has been cut off by weather, and every character is hiding some nefarious past — so far, so And Then There Were None. All of this comes dressed in QT’s famed dialogue, unfurled at the somewhat languorous pace he’s gradually been cultivating for a few movies now, and topped off with a few doses of the old ultra-violence.

One reason the “whodunnit” label doesn’t really stick is that Tarantino doesn’t sit it out until the end. Without spoilers: there’s certainly mystery about who is and isn’t involved, but you can’t invest in that too much because the answer is a little bit Murder on the Orient Express. Not completely Orient Express (I said no spoilers!), but a bit. One factor he does handle well is that (again like And Then There Were None) you can never be quite sure whose side you should be on; who might turn out to be a villain. Even at the end, when all has been revealed, the heroes are hardly heroic.

More talked about than the film’s content has been the way it was made. Despite the confined setting, Tarantino chose to shoot it on 65mm film, using the Ultra Panavision 70 process (only the 11th film to do so) and lenses that hadn’t seen light in nearly five decades, all of which have produced incredible images. QT’s regular DP since Kill Bill (excepting Death Proof), Robert Richardson, has once again done sterling work, with beautiful shots of scenery near the start and a fantastic definition of space once we’re locked up in Minnie’s.

Ultra Panavision 70 produces an ultra-wide 2.76:1 frame (for those not in the know, your widescreen TV is only 1.78:1), which for such an intimate story has struck people as odd ever since it was announced. In fact, it pays off in (at least) two ways: firstly, all the scene-setting scenery looks magnificent; secondly, for a lot of the film there’s stuff going on in the background or at the edge of frame — it’s not just a series of close-ups or two-shots where the ancillary detail is either non-existent or doesn’t matter, but one where that ‘background’ detail is sometimes very instructive to what is going on. Tarantino also uses the full width a lot of the time, placing two figures at either edge of the image — this really isn’t a film you could crop (thank goodness it doesn’t exist in the pan & scan era!)

Richardson’s work was Oscar nominated but lost to The Revenant (which I’m now a little biased against, after it beat this, Fury Road, and handed Roger Deakins his 13th loss, but I’ll see what I think when it finally hits British home ent formats next month), but the film did triumph for Ennio Morricone’s score — and quite rightly so, too, because it’s incredibly atmospheric and effective. Tarantino has commented that it isn’t really a Western score (which you’d expect from Morricone, what with his famous ones), but more of a horror movie score, and that that’s appropriate for the film. And, y’know, that’s not pretentious director-speak — he’s right. Well, that the movie is a horror movie is debatable, but he is right that Morricone’s work sounds more like a horror score, and that that score is appropriate to this movie. It even recycles some of Morricone’s material from The Thing, as if to bring the point home (and that’s far from the only thing about The Hateful Eight that’s indebted to The Thing, but I’ll leave that for someone else to dig into another time). Even though this is the first time he’s had a full score composed for one of his films, Tarantino still sources a couple of well-selected songs from elsewhere, including a very apt credits track by Roy Orbison.

The Hateful Eight may have a deceptively simple story, with straightforward characters and — once they’re finally all revealed — straightforward motivations; and despite that running time, it’s not as grand or as epic as either Inglourious Basterds or Django Unchained; but I say “deceptively simple” because I feel that it’s the kind of film that might reward repeat viewings, to reveal depths of character as well as hints toward the ultimate reveals. Or maybe I’m being generous — maybe it is just a long-winded, verbose way of telling a slight tale. But if it is, it’s still a mighty entertaining one.

4 out of 5

The Hateful Eight is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK today.