The Fugitive – Review

6 Feb

Isn’t it a shame that I’ve met people who firmly believe that straight up action movies do not qualify as artistic film making and refuse to label any of them “classics?” I find it hard to believe that people can still think like that when movies like The Fugitive exist and has gotten overwhelmingly positive acclaim. Based off of a t.v. series that ran from 1963 to 1967, Andrew Davis’ The Fugitive not only serves up a heaping dish of intelligent storytelling and one of the most intense performances of the ’90s, but also just a very entertaining thrill ride packed with plenty of action and adventure.

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Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) is one of Chicago’s go to vascular surgeons and is also graced with a large house and a beautiful wife (Sela Ward). Kimble’s life is completely turned upside down when his wife is killed and he is charged with her murder and sentenced to death. While being transferred, the group of prisoners he is with attempts a break out which crashes the bus allowing Kimble to make his getaway and start his search of the one-armed man that is actually the perpetrator of his wife’s murder. Unfortunately for Kimble, Deputy U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones), who has a reputation for being relentless, is hot on his trail, but neither of them could have guessed how deep the conspiracy that they’ve been tossed into actually goes.

There’s so many things to talk about with The Fugitive, so trying to get my thoughts evenly together is a bit of a challenge. That’s kind of a compliment in and of itself, but I digress. The most important thing to me is how the movie is written. It’s such a tight story with each scene the perfectly compliments one another. Nothing in the movie feels excessive or unnecessary, which is definitely a good thing for a movie that runs over 2 hours long. The story pretty much hits the ground running and doesn’t let up until the resolution. This kept me completely into it the entire time. Not to mention the amount of grand set pieces strewn throughout. One particularly memorable sequence happens during a St. Patrick’s Day parade, which was never in the script and improvised on the spot. That’s some clever film making.

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Because the writing of The Fugitive is so tight, the whole movie just works. I can’t say that I was bored at any point throughout the narrative of this movie. That’s not to say that there isn’t any downtime, because there’s plenty that’s used to build the characters and thicken the plot in ways that it needs to be. This isn’t just stupid thrills that exist for cheap reasons. I mentioned before the memorable scene that takes place during the St. Patrick’s Day parade and how it’s a very well executed scene. There’s another scene that may actually be the most famous from the movie where Kimble successfully avoids a crashing train. The way the stunt was set up required so much planning and used an actual train that I really can’t help but admire it. That’s part of what sets this movie a step above the rest in terms of the action genre.

Finally, the performances in this movie are really something else. Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones are the two big names in the movie, but there are also some great supporting cast members like Joe Pantaliano and Julianne Moore. Ford works great as Kimble and his personality makes the character feel very natural and makes him someone the audience can really root for. Ford just has a knack for making heroes seem like everyday guys. The real scene stealer, however, is Tommy Lee Jones who actually took home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He really seems to be going above what he normally does and even went so far as to make up a lot of his most famous lines on the spot. That just shows how deep into the character of Samuel Gerard he really was.

The bottom line is that The Fugitive is one of the best action films ever made and shows that action films can be considered art in how they’re made and how well the narrative is constructed. Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones give two memorable performances that serve as highlights of their career and was even garnered with 7 Academy Award nominations. I’m sure at this most people have already the pleasure of viewing this contemporary classic, but if not it really is necessary viewing.

Häxan – Review

1 Feb

For this review, let’s get a little weird, and by a little weird I mean a lotta weird. I’ve recently had the odd experience of watching a movie called Häxan, a 1922 Swedish-Danish film made by Benjamin Christensen. I’m not even gonna try and think of things to say about this movie, and instead I’m just gonna write whatever jumps into my mind about it. So without further ado, let’s dive into some insanity.

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To call Häxan a documentary would be a hilarious mistake, even that’s if Christensen originally intended to make. At the beginning and throughout the films are paintings and historical tidbits about witchcraft in order to better explain the topic that is being explored. Everything in between that are fictionalized scenes of witches holding ceremonies in the woods, cooking up potions in their homes, and the church torturing and burning those who are accused of such atrocious deeds. There’s a very memorable depiction of the devil (played by Benjamin Christensen himself). While a lot of it is fictionalized, it’s important to remember that Christensen put in a lot of time for research, which means beyond all the extravagant costumes and effects is some truth.

For a movie that’s about 94 years old, a lot of what I saw really blew me away. There are certain silent movies that floor me when it comes to their special effects, and Häxan is certainly one of them. There’s one excellent scene in particular that shows witches flying over a city, which was done by filming a model of a city that was rotating and the superimposing the “witches” over what they already shot. There are also some costumes that succeeded at supremely giving me the willies. With all of these effects and costumes and outlandish sets made this the most expensive Scandinavian film to be made at the time.

There’s so much fun to have with Häxan with all of the costumes, history, and creativity that Benjamin Christensen put into it. It’s also pretty fun to know that when this movie was first released, it was banned in America for the scenes of torture and nudity. All of these scenes are so laughably tame by today’s standards, but it was clearly a very controversial movie back in 1922. Now, I can admit that Häxan certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, I think the amount of people that would really like some of this tea is pretty limited. If you’re interested in silent film or film history in general, Häxan certainly is a trip down the rabbit hole.

The Bourne Series – Review Part II

28 Jan

Let’s get back to the Bourne series. In the first review, I stated that The Bourne Identity has been one of my favorite action films since I can remember, and that The Bourne Supremacy is a flawed but worthy sequel. Now we have The Bourne Ultimatum and the most recent entry, The Bourne Legacy. This is going to be a very conflicting review because one of these movies is quite frankly one of the best action movies ever made, and the other is an unnecessary mess that made me feel like I wasn’t even watching a Bourne movie. I think you could guess which one I’m talking about. Nevertheless, let’s get this started.

The series continued in 2007 with The Bourne Ultimatum.

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Picking up right where The Bourne Supremacy left off, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is trying to covertly make his way out of Moscow. Six weeks after his escape, the CIA begins tailing journalist Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) after he publishes articles about Bourne and is overheard on his phone talking about Operation Blackbriar. This forces Bourne to also track him to find who his source of all this information is. Now  back in the crosshairs of the CIA, specifically Deputy Director Noah Vosen (David Straithairn) and the more sympathetic Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), Bourne fights his way across the globe trying to find answers about his past and Operation Treadstone, which ultimately leads him back to New York City where the truth will all finally be revealed.

Way up high on the Mount Olympus of film, The Bourne Ultimatum acts as one of the main representatives of action. It’s everything you want in an action movie, but then also delivers an intelligent story and rich characters. I will say that the annoying Paul Greengrass shaky cam is still there, but the action is so wild that I could easily look past it. There are stunts that happen in this movie that goes to show you don’t need CGI for everything. One scene in particular shows a car going up a divider and spinning off of it into another car which causes both of them to roll out of control. Watching the special features on how they did that was absolutely incredible and makes this movie even more impressive.

The Bourne Ultimatum is easily the best film in the entire series. It reveals a lot about Bourne’s past, introduces new villains while reinforcing heroes we’ve come to love. There’s plenty of action and espionage to keep the most jaded and critical film goer at bay while also telling a really dark and intelligent story that mirrors the real world in some scary ways. My only real complaint is how Greengrass uses the camera in action sequences, but it really wasn’t as annoying as it was in The Bourne Supremacy. The bottom line is that this is one of the best action films ever to be made and deserves all of the praise and accolades that it receives.

After that masterpiece, there was a lot to live up to. What came next, however, was kind of weird. That was the 2012 film The Bourne Legacy.

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Taking place during and after the events of The Bourne Ultimatum, The Bourne Legacy introduces Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a genetically enhanced super soldier who’s part of a CIA black op called Operation Outcome. The consequences of Bourne’s actions mixed with inner departmental problems forces Eric Byer (Edward Norton) to completely shut down Operation Outcome, and by that he means whipe out all of the agents working around the globe. They don’t count on Cross surviving the attack and how desperate he would be to get his hands on the pills that keep him genetically superior. He soon finds and enlists the help of Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a biochemist who has analyzed and treated the agents of Operation Outcome. The two travel to the Philippines to inject Cross with a serum that will permanently keep him a step above the rest, but the CIA and local authorities seem to always be around every corner.

As I was watching The Bourne Legacy, I was really trying hard to get into it. Edward Norton and Rachel Weisz both give good performances, and Jeremy Renner makes Aaron Cross a very memorable and fully realized character. There were even a few scenes that were really cool, like a long take that has Cross scaling a house, going into a window, and shooting someone. That’s where it all ends. This movie does not feel like an addition to the Bourne series. There’s only a few scenes with characters from the trilogy and brief mentioning of things that Bourne is doing. Cross doesn’t even really qualify as a “legacy” because he’s part of Operation Outcome and not Treadstone. I don’t understand this movie in the least.

The Bourne Legacy is really missing out on a lot of key elements that make the other movies great. For one thing, the sense of completely grounded realism is gone for me with the introduction of these pills that make super soldiers. Another thing is that the action is less than stellar and even boring. Finally, there just isn’t enough of a connection to the other movies. It’s one thing that Jason Bourne isn’t even in this, but there was still a lot of room to make a spin off that really brings the movies together. Unfortunately we got this mess of a movie.

Well there you have it. The first three Bourne movies are spectacular action movies that helped redefine what the genre should be while also telling a story full of intriguing characters and memorable twists. Just don’t let The Bourne Legacy sour what those movies accomplished.

Anomalisa – Review

26 Jan

I’m proud to say that we are once again looking at one of Charlie Kaufman’s pieces of work. With films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindBeing John Malkovich, and Synecdoche, New York under his belt, it’s pretty safe to say that he is one of the most brilliant screenwriters alive, and quite possibly of all time. Now we have Anomalisa, a startlingly quiet film that comes at you like a sucker punch to the cerebellum. The joy of this movie comes from not only watching it and seeing what Kaufman has to say, but also the hours and days after that you will spend thinking about it.

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Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a self-help author who has traveled to Cincinnati to speak about his new book about becoming the best customer service representative you can be. While spending the night in his hotel, Stone becomes completely disassociated with reality and begins to see everyone as just one person (all voice by Tom Noonan). His night takes a hopeful turn when he hears a beautiful voice coming from down the hall. While investigating, he finds the source of the voice to be a young woman name Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is actually in town to see Stone speak. What follows is a night that may end up changing both of their lives, that is if Stone finally opens up about who he is and realizes the truths of other people.

Much like Kaufman’s other movies, part of the genius of Anomalisa is that it forces you to examine yourself and how you see the world and other people. What may turn some people off is that you may not like what you see when you actually look. This is exactly how I felt after I watched Synecdoche, New York, and even though these movies can make you feel a little bit less than spectacular, they do teach a very important lesson. Anomalisa, compared to his other work, isn’t quite as strange or complicated on the surface but once you think about it for a few days, you find many more layers that you never recognized before.

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When I first heard that Anomalisa was going to be a feature length stop motion film, I was thrilled. It seems like a such a perfect way for Kaufman to tell a story, and I honestly don’t think this movie would’ve packed the punch that it did if it wasn’t stop motion. This story was originally done as a sound play with the actors on different sides of the stage just reading the lines, and then it was conceived by both Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson as a 40 minute short film. The final run time ends up being an hour and a half, and my only gripe is that it might have worked better as a 40 minute short film. There’s a lot of scenes of Michael Stone just sort of sitting in his room, and I get that it’s supposed to show how mundane he views his life, but the movie might have progressed a little better as a short film.

Back to the stop motion. The animation in Anomalisa is really something to behold and I’ve quite honestly never seen anything like it. My experience with stop motion films are mostly things like The Nightmare Before ChristmasThe Boxtrolls, and Coraline, which of course aren’t the only stop motion features, but they’re the ones I feel the most familiar with. The animation and puppets in this film are something completely different in that they feel so close to being real people. This kind of goes with the themes of the movie. It reinforces the question the movie is asking about what it means to be human and what separates us from just being these walking machines programmed to mindlessly go about our everyday lives without question.

Charlie Kaufman knocks it out of the park once again with Anomalisa and has shown that the most human stories can be told without humans actually being onscreen. This is a movie that forces you to look at yourself and possibly even learn a thing or two. It’s a sad film, but in some ways it’s also a happy one. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s an exhausting emotional roller coaster that won’t be easy to forget.

The Bourne Series – Review Part I

24 Jan

This is a review I’ve been wanting to do for a long time since these movies have a very special place in my film loving heart. The Bourne Identity was one of my most watched movies when I was growing up, and was actually one of the first “real” movies I ever sat down, watched, and appreciated. Instead of just reviewing that one, however, I want to take a look at the entire series. These are the kind of spy movies I really like because I feel like stuff like this could actually happen. I have a lot to say about this series so why not just get started?

The Bourne Identity kickstarted the series with its release in 2002.

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On a stormy night in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, a man (Matt Damon) is pulled out of the water by a group of fisherman. He has been shot three times, has a bank number lodged into his hip, and he can’t remember who he is and how he got there. Upon arriving in Zürich, the man discovers his name to be Jason Bourne, but he also finds that he being chased by all types of law enforcement. He enlists the help of a desperate woman, Marie (Franka Potente), who he offers to pay a grand sum of money in exchange for a ride. As they travel to Paris to find out more about Bourne’s identity, Treadstone, a CIA black operation led by Alexander Conklin (Chris Cooper),  sends out all of their sleeper agents to track down Bourne and take him out before he does anymore damage to the CIA.

The Bourne Identity is one of the movies I watched a lot when I was younger, so it’s one of the movies that really got me into movies as much as I am today. I’ve seen and heard a lot of people say that this film breathed new life into the stale action genre of the early 2000s, and I can definitely see that, since a lot of action/thriller films that came after this one drew a lot of creative inspiration. This film is a perfect combination of espionage and action, with a villainous section of the CIA going against a one man war machine that is Jason Bourne. This makes for many great action sequences, car chases, and games of cat and mouse that happen throughout Europe. It’s a spy movie of the highest degree.

This movie was really fun to re-watch after not having seen it for quite a few years. It really hasn’t lost it’s luster and still remains as thrilling as it’s always been. While people knew who Matt Damon was before this, this is the movie that put him to the status of being a Hollywood superstar. This is also the film that successfully kickstarted a whole franchise. If you can’t tell already, I love this movie.

In 2004, The Bourne Supremacy was released. While definitely superior in some regards to the first film, there are some major drawbacks that sour the movie more than they should have.

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For two year, Jason Bourne and Marie have been laying low and keeping their distance from Treadstone and the CIA. All they have built soon shatters when Bourne is framed for the murder of CIA agents who were intercepting documents with proof of who stole $20 million of CIA money. This forces Bourne to come out of hiding, clear his name, and get his revenge on whoever tainted his name and ruined the quiet life he made for himself. This time around, Bourne is forced to go up against the CIA Deputy Directors Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) and Ward Abbot (Brian Cox), while also facing off against Russian Secret Service agent Kirill (Karl Urban) in a war that spreads over multiple countries and cities around the world.

The Bourne Supremacy is a much different specimen that The Bourne Identity. It’s almost as if two different people made these movies. Wait, that’s because they did. Doug Liman was responsible for the very cinematic first film, while Paul Greengrass took the series into a whole other direction with his almost faux documentary style film making. Greengrass would later go on to use this style in films like United 93 and Captain Philips, and they work really well in those movies. Unfortunately, it isn’t always the best choice for this film. The scenes of dialogue are great because it really brings a sense of realism to the story, especially with the handheld look. The fights suffer completely, however, and that’s a shame since the fights are such a big part in these movies. The action often becomes so incomprehensible, I had to just stop looking at it. Major points are deducted from The Bourne Supremacy because of that.

What The Bourne Supremacy does really well is tell a more intriguing story than its predecessor. The first film sort of just introduced the character and his situation, but this film goes deep into the rabbit hole that is Treadstone and shows just how corrupt it is. What’s fun about this is because it’s all very easy to believe something like this happening, and that makes all of the thrills completely worth it. It injects the series with something that can be a real life event. That being said, while I’m not a huge fan of how this movie is made, I can’e deny that it tells a great story, and that’s the most important thing to me.

The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy are a step above average spy thrillers and are part of the reason why I love movies as much as I do. I still have a few more movies to write about, so keep an eye out for the next part where I talk about The Bourne Ultimatum and The Bourne Legacy.

The Revenant – Review

19 Jan

Last year, Alejandro González Iñárritu took film making to a whole new level with his Academy Award winning film Birdman. That film really blew me away, and continues to do so every time I watch it. Could it be possible that Iñárritu has topped himself just a year later? Well, yeah. He did with The Revenant. Now nominated for 12 Academy Awards and already winning Best Drama at the Golden Globes, I was more than a little excited to see it. Now that I have, it may be my new favorite movie of all time.

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In 1823, an American hunting party is traveling through the wilderness of the unexplored north western territories of the United States. After being attacked by a hostile Native American tribe, the party’s numbers is drastically reduced. While scouting ahead to make sure the coast is clear and possibly find food, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is mauled by a mother grizzly bear trying to protect her cubs. Glass survives the bear’s attacks but is left severely injured and close to death. Three volunteers, including Glass’ half Native American son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) decide to stay behind and give Glass a proper burial. Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), one of the volunteers, is desperate to get home and get paid betrays Glass and leaves him for dead. What Fitzgerald wasn’t counting on was Glass’ will to live and desire to get his revenge.

What makes The Revenant a perfect movie in my honest opinion is that it sets out to do everything a movie should, and succeeds in doing so. For two and a half hours, this movie kept me 100% captivated. I felt like I was right there in the middle of the wilderness with Hugh Glass, which made it more than just watching a movie. It made it feel more like an experience. The reason for all of this excitement is because The Revenant is both an artistic masterpiece, but also tells a grueling story of betrayal, vengeance, life, and death that is filled with the rawest performances of humanity that I may have ever seen onscreen.

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Like with Birdman, one of the main reasons to check this movie out is the mind blowing cinematography. The Revenant is photographed by a name everyone should know, and that’s Emmanuel Lubezki, who won consecutive Academy Awards for his work on Gravity and Birdman. It would be pretty wild if he won three years in a row, but he honestly deserves it. Like in the previous films he’s worked on, The Revenant has a lot of really long takes where so much is put into one shot, which makes it feel even more like I was watching something straight out of reality. To add more complications, Iñárritu wanted the entire film to be shot using all natural lighting, which is a truly remarkable feat. I really can’t praise the cinematography enough.

Finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Yes Leonardo DiCaprio is just as fantastic in this movie as you’ve been led to believe. It’s one of those times where I wasn’t watching DiCaprio act anymore. He looked and acted like he completely became Hugh Glass, and that’s not the first time he’s done that with a character. While it isn’t the first time, it is the fullest transformation he’s ever made. Another actor that really makes the movie work is Tom Hardy. Hardy had quite a year in 2015 and has shown himself to be one of the prominent blockbuster actors. Now in The Revenant he plays a villain that is so easy and fun to hate, which makes Glass’ story of revenge that much better.

It may just be the excitement talking, but The Revenant is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen and may have taken the top spot for my favorite movie I’ve ever seen. It has everything I look for in a movie from the story, to the art design, and the acting. This is a very intense, gritty, and real movie that at times feel hard to sit through, but that’s sort of the whole point. Alejandro González Iñárritu has really outdone himself this time and ended 2015’s film year with a resounding bang.

The Hateful Eight – Review

14 Jan

When Quentin Tarantino released Reservoir Dogs in 1992, it was clear that he was to be destined for stardom, but it was Pulp Fiction that made him one of the most recognized and often most abrasive cinematic voices of our time. But that’s part of the fun of watching a new Tarantino movie. You really just never know what to expect. To be quite honest, I’ve been getting a little sick of all the Tarantino hype. This made me feel a little bit less than excited to see The Hateful Eight, but this film turned out to be a breath of fresh air. If Reservoir Dogs meets a spaghetti western, meets Agatha Christie doesn’t sound appealing, then I don’t know what would.

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On a snowy road in Wyoming, a bounty hunter named John “the Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) comes across Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), another bounty hunter with more ruthless tactics. Warren joins Ruth and his bounty, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), in their carriage as they are both making their way to the town of Red Rock. They also pick up the future sheriff of Red Rock, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), but have to stop when a major blizzard forces them to take shelter in Minnie’s Haberdashery, which is actually a stagecoach lodge with a more than deceiving name. Things don’t seem right at Minnie’s Haberdashery, and it becomes clear that some of the other inhabitants are planning something sinister. Now it becomes a drawn out fight to stay alive and figure out who has something up their sleeves and why.

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first because The Hateful Eight is nowhere near a perfect movie and still doesn’t stack up with Tarantino’s earlier efforts. Is this movie a huge ego project for Tarantino? Yes it is. Pretty much everything has been since Pulp Fiction, but I’m not going to hold that against him because I enjoy a lot of his movies quite a bit. The Hateful Eight drags on and on in the first 45 minutes of its nearly three hour runtime with the kind of dialogue you’ve come to expect since the first scene of Inglourious Basterds, which I still think is his masterpiece. The only problem is that the dialogue is far too expository and nowhere near interesting enough. It’s pretty much just the characters in the stagecoach telling each other about their pasts so the audience knows how quirky they are. 45 minutes of that. My God, it was really killing me. Thankfully, things start getting a lot better when they get to the cabin.

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What made Inglourious Basterds such a cool movie was that it took the feel of classic war films and a comic book style of rules and mushed them to become one of my all time favorite movies. The main reason I like The Hateful Eight as much as I do is because of those same reasons. This movie takes a spaghetti western format and injects a classic murder mystery with the style that Tarantino is known for. Speaking of things this guy is known for, it’s really cool that the majority of this movie takes place in Minnie’s Haberdashery. Someone said before I saw this movie that it would work great as a stage play, and I couldn’t agree more. I love when movies feel like this, and it only makes me compare it more to Tarantino’s exceptional debut, Reservoir Dogs.

There’s also plenty of things in The Hateful Eight that I was not expecting, and that’s a good thing. Tarantino has made it quite clear that the shock value in his movies are there on purpose, and that’s part of the fun of watching his movies. While this movie does feel very self indulgent when it comes to the violence and shocking scenes, I still can’t deny that they weren’t effective. Also the cast of actors in this movie is one of the best of the year. Jennifer Jason Leigh was fantastic as Daisy Domergue and has earned herself an Academy Award nomination for her performance. I was also thrilled to see Walton Goggins, who is one of the most underrated actors out there, get a lot of time to shine at the forefront of the movie. Finally, this film has the best original score you’ll hear all year. It’s already won the Golden Globe, and if it doesn’t take home an Oscar for it, I’ll eat my elbow.

I’ve been really on the fence with Quentin Tarantino recently, and I still have my reservations about what’s to come. While that is said, I enjoyed The Hateful Eight far more than I thought I was. I still say that Tarantino just has to tone it down a little bit and not work to make another movie simply to show how awesome he is. A lot of people are saying that this is his worst movie, but they must have all forgotten Jackie Brown. While this isn’t as satisfying as some of his other work, I still can’t deny the fun that I had with it.

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