Director: Quentin Tarantino; Main Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern;
Tarantino’s latest effort is an unapologetic love letter to the western genre and an extremely self-indulgent exercise of cinematic talent. Overly long shots of stagecoach and horses in the snowy landscape of Wyoming, dragged-on banter between untrusting and untrustworthy characters are a few things that do not work as well as planned. The gist of the story is: eight strangers (more or less) are forced by a blizzard to spend a day together at Minnie’s Haberdashery (thanks Tarantino, that was my word of the day!) and bounty hunter John “the Hangman” Ruth (Russell) worries that someone will try to free his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jason Leigh) before he can deliver her to the sheriff of Red Rock. At this point, the audience has already been introduced to John, Daisy, another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Jackson), the coach driver O.B. (James Parks) and Chris Mannix (Goggins) during the aforementioned stagecoach ride with some clever exchanges. At the haberdashery they find a peculiar gallery of characters: hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Roth), retired confederate general Smithers (Dern), world-weary cowboy Joe Gage (Madsen) and Bob (Demian Bichir), who is looking after the place since Minnie and her husband are away. As a side note: the tally is up to nine not eight but I guess poor O.B. doesn’t really count.
The stage is set for the drama to unfold and the viewer is waiting for the explosion of violence in Tarantino’s style, although not before we are regaled with the background stories of most of the characters… or so we think. This western is suddenly turned into a murder mystery theatre piece, which is far from a bad thing as Tarantino already proved with Reservoir Dogs and the heist movie genre. It is however a little too slow-burning and at times you feel the lack of a more ruthless editing. With that said, all the actors but especially Russell, Jason Leigh and Jackson are a riot and a joy to watch, showing their acting chops (and having fun too!) and drawing the viewer in.
A minor quibble I have is about the soundtrack: Tarantino’s dream come true of having Ennio Morricone composing a score for one of his movies might not be all that great, it ended up being less personal and eclectic, I enjoyed Django’s music much more. As for the film as a whole, it is definitely not my favorite of Tarantino’s oeuvre, it doesn’t have enough bite and the pace is too slow. Barely up to par —7/10
Director: Alexander Payne, Main Cast: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb;
How much do we truly know our parents? Alexander Payne might have been wondering the same while he was filming this story. The idea behind it is simple: a father and son road trip, which seems the premise for a sugary, heartwarming tale of rediscovery and bonding. Well, if you have seen Sideways or The Descendant, you won’t be surprised at what Payne comes up with instead. Although it is mainly Woody Grant’s story (Bruce Dern), an alcoholic and slightly senile retiree, we live it through his son David (Will Forte), an unassuming and sensitive stereo salesman. After Woody makes a few (failed) attempts to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska, from Billings, Montana, to claim his million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize (in reality a mail scam to get people to subscribe to magazines), David decides to drive him, ignoring his mother Kate (June Squibb) and his older brother’s protests and dismay. What follows are a series of adventurous mishaps (including hospitalization, loss of dentures, theft of a compressor) with a two days pit-stop in Woody’s hometown (Hawthorne, Nebraska) for a family reunion. We meet the Grant’s clan, Woody’s numerous brothers and their family, and stroll down memory lane. News of Woody’s riches spread through Hawthorne like wildfire, despite David’s efforts of setting the record straight, and several interested parties come knocking asking for a share. In the meantime, we learn also a few things about Woody’s past, as David talks with relatives, old family friends and neighbours. In the end David gives to his father what he really wanted since the beginning of the trip: a new pick-up truck and a new compressor. Beautifully shot in black and white, to better highlight its character-driven nature (it reminds me of old daguerreotypes) and the desolation of small-town America, this film gives a honest take on the elusiveness of familial bonds and the difficulties of really understanding the ones closest to us. A quote from Norman Maclean comes to mind: “it is those we live with and love and should know who elude us”. On the other hand, Payne shows us the greedy, ignorant side of people, balancing the positive vibes with a healthy dose of cynicism. Dern is astonishingly good as booze-addled, semi-catatonic Woody and Forte works as perfect foil with his dutiful and remarkably patient David. June Squibb as Kate adds hilarious and venomous wit to this mix of eccentricity, kindness and world-weariness that portraits an ordinary, dysfunctional family life in a remote corner of America. Inspiring —7.5/10
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