Posts Tagged ‘kurt russell’

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Waaaaayyy back in my early days as an armchair critic, I focused almost exclusively on exploitation, horror, and other “B”-movie genres. They’re pretty much all I wrote about, in fact, and calling my blog “Trash Film Guru” made a kind of sense back then. These days, of course, I find myself casting my hopefully-more-sharply-trained critical eye on just about anything, and if I went back and added up the numbers over the last two or three years I’d probably find that I’ve reviewed just as many comics as I have films, and that I’ve reviewed as many Hollywood blockbusters, documentaries, foreign films, and straight-to-video numbers as I have old-school (or, for that matter, new-school) exploitation flicks, but still — the “Trash Film Guru” name continues to run at the top of my site, and since it does, I take it as almost a personal responsibility to review new Quentin Tarantino films as soon as they come out, given that he’s essentially the living embodiment of the exploitation ethos in our day and age.

Not that it’s a responsibility I don’t relish, mind you — I’m not ashamed to admit that I still absolutely love all of Q.T.’s work to one degree or another (yes, even Death Proof), and that I still consider it a genuine cinematic “event” when something new from the man hits theaters. And yet —

I never did get around to seeing 2015’s The Hateful Eight when it was playing cinemas. I was short-staffed at work at the time and clocking six-day weeks for a good few months there, and so getting out to the movies just wasn’t something I had time for. By the time things settled down a bit and I found myself with something vaguely resembling “free time” again, wouldn’t you know it — the damn thing was long gone. It’s out on Blu-ray and DVD now (with excellent picture and sound as you’d expect and sparse extras, the most notable of which is a decent little “making-of” featurette), though, so hey — I can finally do my duty as a self-appointed “guru” of exploitation and report back to you, dear reader, with my thoughts on this, our guy Quentin’s latest, and perhaps most divisive, effort.

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First off, let’s not kid ourselves — everybody loved Inglourious Basterds (and with good reason), and everybody especially loved that long, slow-burn first scene. A lot of folks even openly wished the entire flick had aped its tone and structure, and evidently Tarantino was listening, because The Hateful Eight is easily his “talkiest,” most insular, most claustrophobic, most subtle work yet. It takes a long time to get going and is decidedly less flamboyant in terms of its balls-to-the-walls, operatic violence(though rest assured there’s still plenty of it) than we’re used to from the auteur, but in many ways that’s the best thing about it — not only because, hey, a little variety is always good, but because Tarantino extends that meme outward within the film itself. The Hateful Eight, ya see, is much more than “not exactly what we were expecting” —  it’s also never exactly what it appears to be.

On the surface, of course, this story about bloodthirsty bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (played by Tarantino mainstay Samuel L. Jackson) crossing paths with more-supposedly-gentlemanly-but-really-even-more-twisted fellow bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) as he escorts his latest captive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) into the one-horse town of Red Rock, Wyoming barely ahead of a blizzard sounds like it’s probably a fairly traditional western — as new characters make their acquaintance, though, such as the town’s purported new sheriff, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), and add layers of intrigue to the proceedings, one starts to get the idea that perhaps Tarantino is going to give us a Peckinpah-esque “revisionist” western. It’s not until we meet the rest of the “hateful” bunch, though — former Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), Red Rock hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), cow puncher Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and substitute shopkeep Bob (Demian Bichir), who are all waiting out the storm inside the confines of an establishment known as Minnie’s Haberdashery — that we realize what we actually have on our hands here is an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery where no one is who they appear to be. Even the ones, paradoxically, who are.

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But hold on a minute. Is that really what Tarantino is serving us here? Of course not. The various characters are, in fact, the flesh-and-blood embodiment of any number of problems (specifically those of the racial, cultural, political, and sexual varieties) plaguing just-post-Civil War America, and even as the onion of just who the fuck did what and what it even means is being peeled, the deftly-intertwined socio-political commentary is where the real action is here — and even there you honestly have to wonder whether or not Tarantino is confining his critique to this historical setting, or showing just how little has really changed between then and now. None of this ever gets heavy-handed, but it sure is thought-provokingly juicy.

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The other delicious bit of sleight-of-hand that Tarantino indulges in comes by way of the brilliant “switcheroo” he pulls immediately after the film’s opening act. Robert Richardson’s gorgeous cinematography at the outset gives us magnificent snow-swept vistas of such quietly ominous grandeur that I was literally kicking myself for not having seen this flick in 70mm, and coupled with Ennio Morricone’s Oscar-winning score the feel established early on in epic in the truest sense of the word — then the remaining 90% of the movie takes place in a single room and is pretty much a stage play on celluloid. Here’s the funny thing, though : Richardson and Morricone’s work only gets stronger once confined to these tight quarters. I have no idea how that works, but works it does.

Needless to say, the acting from all parties concerned is absolutely superb, and much as every line of dialogue in The Hateful Eight  is loaded with import whose meaning will only become clear later, every single movement, gesture, even facial tic on the part of the actors matters here. At over two-and-a-half hours long you’d be forgiven for assuming that there was a fair amount of “filler” material on offer in this flick, but the truth of the matter is that each and every detail is relevant to this film’s outcome. Not only are there almost no “throwaway” lines, there are very few, if any, “throwaway” moments.” So, ya know, pay attention.

And I hope that the nay-sayers who bad-mouthed this flick are still paying attention. If ever there was a film almost purposefully designed to benefit from critical re-appraisal as the years go on, it’s this one. Sure, it’s something of a lengthy slog and most of the tension is bubbling well beneath the surface, but damn — The Hateful Eight is a powder keg that could go off at any second, even if it isn’t always exclaiming that fact in forceful, “in-your-face” tones. You do need to be patient with this flick — but your patience will be richly rewarded.

So — is this Tarantino’s best work? No, Jackie Brown still holds that honor in my own humble opinion. But The Hateful Eight is definitely his most complex, multi-faceted, nuanced, and politically aware effort to date, and shows that while the years may be mellowing the tone of his product, they are in no way blunting its impact.

 

"Vice Squad" DVD from Anchor Bay

Mean, my friends.  Mean is the word we’re looking for.Director Gary (Dead And Buried, Poltergeist III)  Sherman’s 1982 crime thriller Vice Squad is one brutal bastard of a movie, and it’s largely down to one reason : the sensationally unhinged performance of future-direct-to-VHS mainstay Wings Hauser as Ramrod, an insanely over-the-top Country-and-Western/cowboy-style pimp with no conscience, no remorse, and absolutely no morals whatsoever. Truth be told, Hauser’s Ramrod is one of the great villains not just in exploitation film history, but in all of movie history in general. The guy should’ve won a fucking Oscar, but too many members of the Academy would literally puke their minds out of their heads if they saw this flick. The Hollywood establishment doesn’t much like to acknowledge the seedy underbelly of the city their industry calls home, you see, and that seedy underbelly is exactly   where Vice Squad lives .

The plot’s almost elegant in its simplicity : a single mom maintaining a carefully-sculpted middle class facade (Hardcore‘s Season Hubley)is, in reality, a streetwise hooker who goes by the name of Princess. One evening while she’s working the streets of that aforementioned seedy Hollywood underbelly, one her good friends in “the life,” whose street handle is  Ginger (future original MTV veejay Nina Blackwood), is brutally — and folks, I do mean brutally — if you’re at all squeamish, avoid this flick like the plague — beaten and murdered by her psychotic pimp, that Ramrod fella I was just talking about (and incidentally, our guy Ramrod doesn’t seem too concerned about the cops knowing who he is and what he’s up to, since the custom paint-and-decal job on his Ford Bronco says “RAMROD” in bold capital letters right on the side). Princess knows who did it, of course . Furthermore, the cops investigating the case, led by only-semi-grizzled veteran detective Tom Walsh (Gary Swanson) know damn well who did it, too. To that end, figuring that Ramrod will be needing a new breadwinner soon, they set up Princess to lure him back to his own apartment, wearing a wire, and get a confession out of him on tape. All goes according to plan — Ramrod ‘fesses up, the cops bust him, and his swears his revenge on Princess as the boys in blue haul his ass off to jail.

And then, naturally enough, a cuffed-up Ramrod escapes his public servant captors, and spends the rest of the movie trying to track an unsuspecting Princess down.  The audience is brought along for the action — and once it gets going, it’s genuinely non-stop — from three different vantage points : we separately follow the (again, unsuspecting) Princess as she turns tricks looking to earn bread to feed her kid, Ramrod as he does anything and everything to try to find her before the evening is out, and detective Walsh as he does anything and everything to try to find her first.

Sherman is a master of pacing as he intercuts from one point of reference to the next, displaying a seriously deft touch and always seeming to know exactly when to break from one character’s story arc (sorry for the pretentiousness) to the next. We should probably give screenwriters Sandy Howard and Kenneth Peters some credit for that, as well, but it’s Sherman who’s capturing all the deranged “ambiance,” for lack of a better word, along the way. And as for one of a director’s other primary responsibilities, namely getting great performances out of his cast — well, he really hits it out of the park there.

I don’t know what stroke of genius possessed him to cast Hauser in the role of lunatic-Joe-Buck-as-pimp-rather-than-hustler, but in lesser hands the idea of a fucking cowboy “player,” of all things, would have been comical, at best. As it is, however, much as I hate to give a guy named (by himself, no doubt) “Wings” credit for anything, all you can do it sit back in awe and watch him do his thing. Trust me when I say he’ll scare the living shit out of even the most jaded viewer.

Hubley  turns in an extremely believable portrayal as the damsel in distress, exuding a kind of cool confidence up until the downright frightening conclusion, where she pulls out all the fucking stops.  According to the commentary track on the Anchor Bay DVD (featuring Sherman’s sharp recollections  and moderated by exploitation film historian, as well as filmmaker himself, David Gregory), she was going through a bitter and exceptionally painful divorce from actor Kurt Russell (see, there was another woman before Goldie) at the time that centered around a custody battle over their daughter, and Sherman told her to channel all of her anguish into this climactic scene (about which I’ll refrain from divulging any pertinent details) and just “let it all out,” so to speak.

And damn, does she ever.

Lastly as far as the acting goes,  Swanson hits just the right notes in his portrayal of Walsh as a detective who’s seen it all but still, improbably, gives a shit — in a general sense, but also in a specific sense when it comes to protecting the woman who he blames himself for putting in harm’s way.

It all adds up to an expertly-paced, more-than-expertly acted frantic pursuit story that will keep you on the edge of your seat and holding on for dear fucking life just to see what happens next.

Plenty of critics at the time took issue with Vice Squad‘s unrestrained sadism, brutal violence, and overall supremely sleazy tone, but the film had its defenders too, including Mr. Mean Streets himself, Martin Scorsese, who recognized it for the powerful gut-punch of reality that it was.  Needless to say, the fact this this movie has stood the test of time and is just as shockingly immediate and unreservedly in-your-face today as it was at the time proves which side was right in that particular argument.

Wings fucking Hauser, man!

As I alluded to (well, okay, downright said) earlier, Vice Squad was released on DVD by Anchor Bay in 2007. The anamorphic wide-screen transfer has been brilliantly digitally restored and looks sensational, the remastered soundtrack is superb (the cult favorite theme tune “Neon Slime” has never sounded better), and the extras package features the theatrical trailer, a selection of radio spots for the film, a comprehensive poster and stills gallery, the fantastic commentary track I also made reference to a minute ago, and a superb liner-notes essay by  Richard Harland Smith.

Simply put, Vice Squad is the most agonizingly nasty crime flick you’ll ever see that didn’t come from a country shaped like a boot, and in truth it even puts most of the Italian stuff to shame. It features superb performances all around, with Hauser putting in an absolutely historically psychopathic turn, and it’s got more adrenaline pumping through its veins than a guy trying to lift a car off his trapped child. It’s raw, it’s devastating, and it’s just plain bad-ass stuff all the way around. And if that’s not enough, there’s even a cameo from “Rerun” himself, What’s Happening?‘s Fred Berry, as a wimpy-ass pushover of a pimp.

Some movies show you the ugly underside of human life. Vice Squad sticks you right the fuck in the middle of it and dares you to look away. There are times you’ll surely want to look away — I haven’t described in detail any of the seriously sick shit in this movie for a reason —but the story itself, and the performances — especially Hauser’s — just won’t let you.

I guarantee, if you’ve never seen this flick before, that you won’t be able to take your eyes off it, no matter how loudly your brain screams at you to do just that . But it’s gonna burn, baby — it’s gonna burn.