All posts by Josh Hains

Inglourious Basterds – A Review by Josh Hains

“I think this just might be my masterpiece.” – Lt. Aldo Raine

The quote above that leaps from the mouth of Lieutenant Aldo Raine, and both echoes an earlier scene in Inglourious Basterds, and closes out Quentin Tarantino’s sixth film, is not a gleefully pretentious boast as one could blindly assume, but in my eyes, a coy wink to the audience from a director who seemed to be aware at the time, that he had in fact concocted his masterpiece. To this day, Tarantino holds the film’s notorious opening sequence, where Christoph Waltz’s Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (in an Oscar winning turn) slowly and methodically removes vital information about the whereabouts of a Jewish family from the mouth of farmer Perrier LaPadite, in high regard as the best thing he has ever written. Whether he believes the film in its entirety is a masterpiece or not remains ambiguous to me. Whether you find it to be his masterpiece, or far from it, is another story. What I think of the film is coming right up.

I can recall with reasonable clarity the first time I saw Inglourious Basterds, on DVD in the comfort of my bedroom, and how I found myself both thrilled and bored at the same time. I had heard from friends and even a couple teachers at my high school that I was guaranteed to love Tarantino’s latest feature, and there I was at films end underwhelmed and sorely disappointed. At the time of the film’s release, I was quite the action movie junkie who seemingly lived and breathed violent cinema, and was expecting a simplistic, wickedly graphic WWII action adventure extravaganza, something so relentlessly bloodthirsty and violent it would make Rambo 4 and Shoot ‘Em Up look like Forrest Gump in comparison. What I did not expect, or want, was the deeply resonant, audacious blackly comical war picture I was served on a silver platter. You could say I was rather cinematically ignorant. Roger Ebert had it pegged right on the forehead when he said it would annoy some, and startle others. I was certainly startled by unexpected moments of frightening violence, and as mentioned, I was annoyed that I had not received that ultraviolent action movie I so desperately wanted. But by the same token, I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds.

What took me by surprise were two vastly different aspects of the film: the craft, and the impact. Initially, I was taken back by how great the performances were, in particular and quite obviously, Pitt and Waltz’s, and just how much fun and wild and odd, and yet, deeply layered, three dimensional, and even kind of powerful those two performances and plenty of others, to this day still are. I was hypnotized by Tarantino’s musical selection, captivated by his editing and the offbeat and bold manner of storytelling he was shoving down my throat. But what really caught me off guard, was just how damn suspenseful the entire film was. I sat with my eyes glued to the screen while Landa interrogates LaPadite, quite literally chewing on my nails and almost giddy from the overwhelming tension and suspense I felt boiling over within myself. Or in the case of the sequence in the basement bar, where the identities of three Basterds hinge on the validity of one of their accents that sounds a wee bit off to a nosy and understandably suspicious Nazi Major, the threat of impending violence growing at the drop of every letter that falls from their respective tongues…I could have chewed my finger off, I was so consumed by suspense. Or even later in the film, in a moment toward films end to be more specific, when Shosanna is ever so close to watching her unseen reel of film displayed before Hitler himself and an unhealthy number of Nazis, when the ever persistent and fairly annoying Fredrick Zoller comes knocking at the door to the projection room…oh damn. I could have swallowed my arm whole like a shark.

But what has surprised me the most is the second item I mentioned, the impact the film has had on me in the years since my first viewing of it. Over time, and with expected subsequent viewings, I have come to adore it more and more with each individual viewing. Long gone is the lust for a purely cathartic action packed ride, the days of me wishing Tarantino had made the movie I wanted to see, and not the incredible piece of cinema I am praising today. The more I see Inglourious Basterds in all its angry, hilarious, gutsy, and riveting glory, the more I come to appreciate the cinematic gift Tarantino gave those receptive enough to see the film for what it is, and not what it could be.

Which brings me to one final point. On January 2nd, I sat down in a crowded theatre with quite a good seat in the middle if the room, and found myself completely engrossed in Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film, The Hateful Eight, for its entire 168 minute long duration. Yes, this was the widely seen digital theatrical cut. After seeing the film, I informed my friends that I felt it was the high point of Tarantino’s career, his masterpiece plain and simple, and likely my favourite film within his short repertoire. A week later, I find myself stumped. The Hateful Eight is like a well oiled machine with nary a hiccup along the way. It is so finely tuned, so boldly and magnificently performed, so passionately manufactured, and so angrily powerful and intensely resonant, I find myself unable to shake the memory of it from my mind for even a second. I called it his masterpiece after all. But prior to seeing The Hateful Eight, I called Inglourious Basterds his masterpiece. Surely he can have two masterpieces, but one will always stand a little taller than the other, so which one takes the high ground? I judged them by their endings. Now, for those of you who have not had the pleasure, or displeasure (depending on where you stand on the film once you’ve seen it), of seeing The Hateful Eight, you need not worry about spoilers, because I will not provide any.

The Hateful Eight, while complicated in the dialogue that leads to its inevitable conclusion, is to put it bluntly, simple entertainment, and almost could have been quite the superficial film. Much of the meat of the film is not bloody killing or hyper stylized visual gimmickry that seems to be the meat of a couple of his other films (at least three), but the very dialogue that propels the film forward, at least for me, with the velocity of a hot bullet. Additionally, The Hateful Eight is as angry, spiteful, nasty, brutal, profane, and humorous as Inglourious Basterds, and unexpectedly hopeful. It is a blast, a real treat, and a true gem of a film. At films end, I felt so deeply that the film is perfect, and in the way the ending is constructed and performed, I found myself swept up in its sublime power in a way only a small, and I do mean small, handful of films had ever done beforehand. I felt like I could breathe again, as if I had been holding my breath in as I sat in a disquieted and unnerved, suspense ridden state, completely caught up in the twisting and turning of this Western mystery. I felt pure relief, and yet I felt like I was still grappling with the angry, societally relevant morality tale spinning at the centre of the film, a sensation I have yet to shake.

Inglourious Basterds is not simply entertainment for the sake of entertainment or the mastering of craft…not that The Hateful Eight is either. It is an intricate, complicated piece of work. Here is a film that gives Jews hypothetical revenge against Nazism, with richly textured, yet goofy and nearly sadistic characters enacting swift justice with their guns, knives, and a baseball bat, creating chaos within France, and with every bullet riddled scalped Nazi, sending the coldest shivers all the way up the ranks of the Nazi war machine, echoing the horror of Nazi atrocities. In its final moments, one senses an air of achievement in much the same way the surviving characters surely do, having won the war and overcome pure evil, and yet we sit still, frozen, almost shell shocked, utterly disquieted. Because in those final moments, we are still dealing with the ramifications of their actions, cleansed of nothing, and left with a powerful, overwhelming sensation burning in our guts. Even as Aldo revels in his mastery of scarring Nazis with swastikas carved into their foreheads, and Tarantino winks at the audience with that clever last line that rings as truthfully as anything he has ever written, we cannot help but feel unsettled, disturbed, disquieted, shocked. I think we are supposed to.

But none of that answers the question of which film do I hold in higher regard as Tarantino’s clearer masterpiece. And on that note, here is my verdict: Inglorious Basterds is bound for the same iconic glory as Pulp Fiction, and fully deserves every ounce of it, but The Hateful Eight, flawless in its execution and utterly unforgettable in its sublime power, takes the high ground. A dramatic film has not stuck to my mind as hard as The Hateful Eight has in the last three years since I saw Killing Them Softly in its theatrical run. It is just that damn good.

But of course, I have a sneaking suspicion another film will replace The Hateful Eight in my mind as if I never saw it: the Golden Globe winning The Revenant.

We’ll see.

Mulholland Drive – A Review by Josh Hains

I do not hate Mulholland Drive, nor do I like Mulholland Drive.

David Lynch’s most celebrated film, the aforementioned Mulholland Drive, is also his most ambiguous piece of work to date. To call it confusing would be a disservice to his crafting of this meticulous, multifaceted surrealistic experience. It is not that Mulholland Drive is merely confusing from a lack of directorial control and self indulgence leading to unintended confusion and incoherence, but that the film intentionally lacks in many sequences, the connectivity necessary to compose a complete and full picture. This is not a film that ends with all loose threads tied up with a bow, but a film that purposely leaves loose endings, which generates room for interpretation of the films events, similar to the equally as confounding Birdman Or (The Unexpected virtue Of Ignorance) released in 2014. As I watched the film, captivated by most of its aspects but completely befuddled by the seemingly impenetrable plot, I began asking myself questions I would revisit in time. Who is the grungy, grotesque man who spookily appears from around a corner as if he sensed someone approaching? Is he just a random piece of a large intricate puzzle, or is he the physical embodiment pure evil, fear, or death, or perhaps all three? Who is the cowboy, and what is the reason behind Kesher’s interaction with him? Is everything just inside Diane’s mind at films end? Unlike Birdman however, upon finishing my first viewing of Mulholland Drive in 2014 (months prior to seeing Birdman), and in the case of subsequent viewings in the time since my initial viewing, I reacted both poorly and foolishly toward the film. Rather than approach the ambiguous nature of the film at its end with the same open-mindedness and childlike curiosity as I did with Birdman some months later, I greeted it with frustration and disdain for not closing in similar fashion to Blue Velvet or Wild At Heart, for not allowing me the relief of a “Hollywood ending” with all loose ends tied, and for leaving me absolutely confused and underwhelmed.

What I discovered in later viewings was not the truth of the film and its hidden meaning, but that the more I dissected and analyzed the material, the more time I spent engaged in the mystery of the film, the more frustrated and confused I would become. Justin Theroux, who portrays Adam Kesher, has expressed the belief that people such as myself, who take the time to dissect the film as thoroughly as we have done, will only end up further frustrating ourselves, due to the lack of what he called “connective tissue”. Once I recognized this aspect of the film this morning watching a brief clip of Theroux discussing the mysterious nature of Lynch’s films, in particular Mulholland Drive, after a revisit of Mulholland Drive last night, I saw the light at the end of a vast dark tunnel. I saw that the power of the film lies in its inability to be interpreted, or as Roger Ebert put it in his review of the film (which later made its it way into his “Great Movies” list) “It was a tribute to Lynch that the movie remained compulsively watchable while refusing to yield to interpretation.” I could not have said it better myself.

A question has remained in my mind for the rest of today, the question of what do I think of the film now that I have freed myself of compulsively searching the depths of the film for its meaning and some semblance of a clear resolution? Considering that in viewings past, my issues were not with any other aspect of the film; not the performances, not the cinematography and startling imagery, not the dread ridden bleak atmosphere, not the music, or the sex sequences and unexpected violence; beyond the purposely ambiguous and open-to-interpretation nature of the puzzling narrative, and seeing as how that issue has been cleared up rather nicely as of today, I think that the film is possibly David Lynch’s finest film. His masterpiece. The film upon which all his other works will forever be compared to. I could also say that the impenetrable nature of the film, the unwillingness to yield to interpretation and modern cinematic standards, places the film upon a pedestal above most other films that thrive in surrealistic realms, though unlikely above but quite possibly on par with Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, The Wrath Of God, or Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo, both similarly mystifying, confounding, and surreal. Of course, these points are open to discussion and interpretation, and subsequent to change dependent on perspective.

All of this brings me back to my opening statements, and my final verdict on the film as a whole. I do not hate Lynch’s Mulholland Drive in any facet, nor do I like Mulholland Drive. I love it, and I want to see it again soon so I can once again become entangled in that mysterious dreamlike realm that seemingly inhabits one dark corner of Los Angeles. Or Diane’s demented imagination. Or both.

 

In The Heart of the Sea – A Review by Josh Hains

Ron Howard’s latest cinematic venture, In The Heart of the Sea, tells the true story of the prolific whaling ship The Essex, and the fateful whale attack that later inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and damn is it ever good. The film opens with Melville interviewing the last surviving crew member of the Essex, Thomas Nickerson, who at the time of the incident was only 14 years of age. The remainder of the film is a faithful, albeit sanitized, account of what really happened in the days both before and after this near mythological event, as seen through Nickerson’s green-horn eyes, though most of the events utilize Owen Chase as the film’s moral centerpiece. This makes sense, given that Chase is such a legendary figure in whaling history, and focusing specifically on Nickerson because he recounts the events would have been a foolish narrative choice, especially given that Chase and the boat’s one-time Captain, George Pollard, have always been the main focus of the human side of the accounts told.

In The Heart of the Sea is the first seafaring adventure I have seen committed to film in years that is not of the Pirates of the Caribbean canon, and is a welcomed addition to the barren genre. I think the popular criticism that the film fails to achieve epic qualities that it supposedly strives desperately toward is a miscalculated notion. The events depicted easily could have been exaggerated to mythological heights, which would have been a step forward in the wrong direction, given that the vast majority of the real events themselves were actually quite intimate and personal in comparison to the commonly exaggerated tale most associated with the event.

I really enjoyed the performances, in particular Chris Hemsworth, and Cillian Murphy as Chase and Joy, respectively, and the visual flourishes. Howard’s now typical use of amber, emerald, and blue hues within the visuals of his most recent works did not exactly meld with Rush, but here actually serves In The Heart of the Sea extraordinarily well, used to near perfection in the night sequences, adding a brooding aura to the nightly events. My only major issue lied within the over abundance of unnecessary CGI over practical effects that would have better sold the near epic quality of the notorious whale.

As a whole, the film works, and oh so very well, but in order for it to work properly, one must set aside bias and arrogance in pursuit of some pure masterpiece, and instead embrace something different for a change. Here is a film that embraces with effortlessness the intimate nature of the real event, cautiously avoiding the kind of overblown blockbuster qualities so many seemed to expect from this film. It is not an epic tale of bravery and courage by macho men in the face of a relentless monster, some epic sprawling adventure with a hero standing stoic and mighty at the end, but rather a cautionary story of remarkable survival filled with desperation, brutality, and an overwhelming bleak atmosphere. The arrogance of Mankind has been the assumption that nature is something controllable by our hand, and not the other way around. The Essex crew embodies our inherent arrogance, savagery, and ignorance while the whale itself takes on the other side; the uncontrollable, the untameable, the wild and free. In The Heart of the Sea marks a high point for seafaring adventure films, and is most definitely far better than some sour souls are making it out to be. Give it a chance, you just might be surprised.

My vote for most dynamic poster of the 2015 film season.

 

Lawrence of Arabia – A Review by Josh Hains

I have been blown away many a time by many a film, though as time passes by at breakneck speed, so few are able to blow me away time and time again in repeated viewings. Lawrence of Arabia is one of those few. While David Lean’s glorious masterpiece (a word I do not toss around often) is not my favourite film, it does sit high upon a pedestal of the greatest films I have ever seen. I can not think of another film of equal or greater length that has managed to sustain my interest as consistently as Lawrence of Arabia does in its nearly 4 hour runtime. Much of what keeps me entertained does not have to do with the plot, the score, or most of the supporting performances, but rather, that eccentric leading performance from the late Peter O’Toole, as T.E. Lawrence, and that absolutely gorgeous cinematography.

The first time I saw the film, I was completely hooked by the time Sherif Ali makes his grand entrance, initially appearing as nothing more than a speck on the screen, before slowly materializing into a full blooded, and violent figure. I can not think of too many other films that dedicated that much time and effort to introduce a character. I do not think I can name another film that took the time to showcase the rising of a bright orange sun that fills the sky with its warm glow as gracefully as Lawrence of Arabia did. Nor can I think of such a magnetic, yet eccentric and carefree performance as the one Peter O’Toole delivers. Whether he is uttering blunt thoughts or speaking through his eyes, his Lawrence chews up every scene with a delightful cheekiness, spontaneity, and flamboyance. You can hardly take your eyes off him for even a second as he completely dominates every scene he is featured in. At the end of the day when all the dust settles, when I find myself reflecting upon this magnificent work, I am always quietly moved by every single frame of this gorgeous film. I can not find a single visual flaw, a singular moment that sticks out as odd or misplaced or weird. Every frame blends together splendidly, coherently, and perfectly. Lawrence of Arabia, with such a wide visual scope and a story of truly epic proportions, is one of those rare films that makes you feel as small and insignificant as an ant. To see Lawrence in his ceremonial garments, a small silhouetted figure standing against an enormous sky, is to be reminded of how enormous our world really is, and just how beautiful this film truly is.

I honestly believe that the best kinds of films invite you into their worlds, captivate your heart, mind, and soul, and in doing so, help provide you with an escape from the hardships of your life, if only for a couple of hours. The greatest films one can ever watch not only do that, but are of such marvellous quality, one often finds themselves wishing they would never end and that you could continue the journey for hours more. Lawrence of Arabia is one of the finest examples of this ideal, a true cinematic gem. What a wonderful experience.