Western Wednesday: The Hateful Eight (2015)


The Hateful Eight is long, slow, and gratuitously violent. And I loved every minute of it.
While I still think Pulp Fiction is probably the most important film to come out in my lifetime, my favorite Tarantino flick is Inglourious Basterds. That opening scene, between Hanz Landa and the poor dairy farmer, is one of the tensest, saddest, funniest, and most beautifully patient things ever burned to film. With The Hateful Eight, Tarantino tries to sustain that note for nearly two hours in the wide open and snow-covered scenery of Wyoming—or whatever convincingly desolate countryside is actually standing in for it.
For the most part he succeeds. The conclusion is so climactic I still smile every time I think about its diabolical simplicity. It’s about the bloodiest thing I’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s not quite as bloody as the Crazy 88 scene from Kill Bill, but let’s just say this is the stuff Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger live for. 
The film opens on Major Marquis Warren, a bounty hunter played by Samuel L. Jackson. He’s sitting on a saddle which is mounted to a pile of dead bounties. His horse has died from the cold and the corpses he’s sitting on amount to a few thousand dollars—if he manages to get them back to town. Luckily, a stagecoach comes his way and he finagles a ride with the man in the back: John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), who’s handcuffed himself to Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a woman wanted for murder. She doesn’t seem to mind much when Ruth beats the shit out of her, which is often.
Along the way they pick up a suspicious traveler, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who claims he’s the new sheriff. Ruth—who begins the film paranoid, only to grow more so by the minute—reluctantly agrees to take him into the stagecoach. Unable to beat a blizzard, they hole up in Minnie’s Haberdashery, a cozy outpost with a stocked bar and a chess game by the fireplace. As you’ve seen in the trailer, it’s Ruth’s opinion that at least one of the eight people in the haberdashery is planning to free his prisoner. When they ask Domergue herself, she says, “You’re right! Me and one of them fellas is in cahoots! We’re just waiting for everybody to go to sleep… that’s when we’re going to kill y’all.” The way she says it is both hilarious and chilling and manages to tell her captors nothing more about their predicament.
There’s a very obvious reason the director uses music produced for John Carpenter’s The Thing: surprisingly, that film has even more influence on Hateful Eight than the spaghetti westerns that so heavily informed Django Unchained. I’m not saying anyone was complaining about Kurt Russell’s involvement—I certainly wasn’t—but it makes even more sense when you see the thinly disguised references to the tension and paranoia Carpenter orchestrated nearly thirty years ago. Imagine The Thing without an alien and a western setting and you’ve got a great idea of what kind of movie The Hateful Eight is.
It’s nice seeing Kurt Russell play the kind of overconfident dork he played in Death Proof because I have a feeling the actor will soon fade into straight-to-VOD obscurity—not because he sucks, but because modern-day Hollywood sucks. But it’s Jennifer Jason Leigh who steals the show with her over-the-top, yet honest performance—honest in the way she seemingly flubs what she means to say and struggles with a face that’s been permanently fucked up by the other characters, who frequently treat her like a punching bag. I don’t think Samuel Jackson is quite as good as he was in Unchained, but that’s like saying spaghetti and meatballs isn’t as good when you heat up the leftovers—it’s still pretty damn good. 
The rest of the cast, including Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen, are perfect, and while I won’t say this is among my favorite westerns of all time, it also took Leone two westerns before obtaining perfection with The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. With any luck, Tarantino will do at least one more western before his career is over, which he claims is relatively soon, and I’ve got a hunch such a trilogy will be something we’ll talk about for years.
So you want gleeful madness? You’ve got it right here. Maybe more than you bargained for.

Best Games of 2015

10. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Even though it’s (barely) in my top ten, I’ve enjoyed almost every other Metal Gear game a lot more than this one. I suspect it only makes my list because I didn’t play many games this year. It’s a pretty good game, but doesn’t scratch the same itch the previous entries did. I understand a lot of people disliked the rampant cutscenes in the other games, but those people didn’t really like Metal Gear Solid, did they? It just feels like the developers were trying too hard to appeal to a more general crowd with the addition of episodes, losing what made the series special in the first place.

9. Prison Architect

Full disclosure: I played Prison Architect while it was still in early access and haven’t touched it since. If, like me, you enjoy older architect games like Rollercoaster Tycoon, Theme Hospital, and Sim City 2000, but despise their modern day sequels and reboots, then you’ll probably love Prison Architect, too. Its addictive gameplay kept me entertained for days.

8. The Escapists

The Escapists is like taking control of an NPC in Prison Architect. I enjoyed the routine of prison life so much, I sometimes almost forgot to escape. It’s a lot of fun with a gamepad.

7. Resident Evil HD

Having beaten the original on Playstation a billion years ago, I didn’t expect to enjoy replaying it as much as I did. It’s a great value for twenty bucks.

6. Mortal Kombat X

The only cheat still bouncing around in my head from the nineties is the Mortal Kombat blood code for Sega Genesis. I wasted a lot of quarters on the series and kind of lost interest after it went 3D, but I was surprised to find I had just as much fun with MKX as I did the original three. The sound and graphics are brutal and awesome, but why the fuck do they keep cramming godawful storylines and sub-par voice acting into the series nowadays?

5. Grand Theft Auto V

I already played GTAV on Playstation 3 a few years ago, but—no surprise—it’s so much funner on PC. I still think no other series pulls off interactive crime movies better and I love the fact you take control of morally reprehensible characters whose problems aren’t that they have to save the world, but that their wives hate them and their children are brats. Online is a blast, too, provided you have friends who own a copy. Playing with strangers is shit, though.

4. The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

A part of me knows The Witcher 3 is probably the best game of the year, but there’s a difference between the best and my favorite. Still, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed the lore of a video game more, which led to my reading (and immensely enjoying) Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Last Wish soon after the game came out. It’s sure to be a game I revisit in the future.

3. Fallout 4

I know the internet has unanimously decided Fallout 4 is a disappointment, but any game I spent so many hours with deserves to be high on this list. I agree, though: technically it’s not as good as The Witcher 3, it’s a helluva lot more buggy, and the graphics are a step down. I don’t give a damn. I love the character I’ve created, love battling super mutants with Fat Man atomic weapons, and love the sense of humor.

2. Sunless Sea

I may not have put as much time into Sunless Sea as I did Fallout 4, but I fully intend to revisit it in the near future. The Lovecraftian feel of it all just came at the right time for me, I guess, as I’ve been rereading a lot of the writer’s stories this year. It’s extremely atmospheric and the sense of dread is, understandably, something many people won’t like, but my sheer desire to survive the situations it threw at me (without resorting to cannibalism) really made me feel alive in a way that made me forget I was playing a video game with popcorn crumbs and soda stains on my shirt.

1. Kerbal Space Program

So yeah, maybe it’s a bit of a cheat as the early access version has been available for years, but the full KSP did indeed release this year. It’s one of the very few early access games that didn’t get boring by the time it reached its full release date. The number of mods for this game sends the replayability factor through the roof. It’s a must-have for science and/or science-fiction fans.

So, in the interest of transparency, here are the 2015 games I haven’t played yet, but suspect might end up on my list after I finally get around to playing them:

  • Homeworld Remastered
  • Infinifactory
  • Invisible Inc.
  • Nuclear Throne
  • Rainbow Six: Siege
  • Technobabylon
  • Westerado: Double Barreled
I should also note that I sunk 29 hours into Empyrion: Galactic Survival this year, but as the game is still in early access as of 2015, it won’t be appearing on this list. If they finish it next year, I guarantee you it’ll be on the list. And now, without further ado…

Dishonorable Mention: Star Wars Battlefront


For anyone who’s unwilling to purchase the ridiculous amount of DLC content, Battlefront gets boring within days, not weeks. In fact, I may have played it more in beta than I did after purchasing it. The maps and Star Wars flavoring (particularly the pitch perfect sound effects) are awesome while they last, though. But man, what a letdown. I knew not to get excited when it was announced so long ago, but buying it (on sale) seemed like less of a hassle than trying to get the older Battlefront games to work online again. If you’re on the fence, I’d suggest staying there. There are at least a dozen better Star Wars games, all of which are cheaper, too.

Western Wednesday: My Name is Nobody (1973)

If The Ridiculous Six wasn’t your cup of tea, then how ’bout a different western comedy?

The year before Blazing Saddles released, the spaghetti western was dead. Sergio Leone had already made what many consider to be the best western, period, and his assistant director on the first two Dollar films, Tonino Valerii, had gone on to direct Day of Anger (I plan to feature the Blu-Ray edition when I get my hands on it) which was another fine example of the genre.

So Leone did what few directors would do: he arranged to have Valerii direct a send-up of the films they helped define. Also in on the joke is Ennio Morricone, whose wonderfully illogical score plays like a parody of his previous works. You get the feeling these guys weren’t mourning the death of the spaghetti western, but merrily digging the grave.

one of the best scenes in the film

Jack Beauregard (Henry Fonda) sits down for a shave at the local barbershop. The man behind the razor intends to slit his throat. As the blade inches towards Jack’s jugular, his pistol slides out from underneath his gown. He presses the barrel against the man’s crotch and tells the would-be assassin, in his velvety, trademark voice: no funny business.

The rest of the gang ambush Jack, who guns ’em down with his lightning reflexes. Jack’s a bit of a legend around these parts, which means he frequently has to dispatch men who’ve come to kill him. They all want to go down in history as the men who defeated the great Jack Beauregard. Meanwhile, Jack just dreams of quietly retiring to Europe.

In the aftermath of his latest shootout, a bystander asks, “Is there anyone faster?” The reply: “Nobody.”

Enter Nobody, a childlike wanderer played by Terence Hill (They Call Me Trinity, Django Prepare the Coffin). Three bad guys try to dupe him into delivering a booby trapped picnic basket to Jack and he knowingly agrees. When the aging gunslinger asks Nobody what’s in the basket, Nobody says, “Oh, this? I reckon it’s a bomb.” To which Jack replies, “I reckon you’re right.” Nobody tosses the basket back to the bad guys and yells, “He didn’t want it!” and the basket explodes.

Meanwhile, a group of bandits known as the Wild Bunch (an intentional reference to Sam Peckinpah, whose name also appears on a grave marker) are laundering stolen gold by passing it off as the production of a dummy mining operation. Although Jack assumes Nobody is just another gunslinger who’s come to kill him for a shot at fame, Nobody reveals that he idolizes gunslingers and wants Jack to take on the Wild Bunch single-handedly. That way Jack’s name can go down in the history books.

I’m not sure if a spaghetti western should be called cute, but My Name is Nobody is pretty damn cute. For the most part it works. Like Two Mules for Sister Sara, which I featured a few weeks ago, it’s not exactly what I’d call a classic, but it’s far from being a stinker and a helluva lot more memorable than most movies. Then again, maybe it’s only memorable because we’ve seen some of these scenes a hundred times before.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens gets back to its pulp roots


No spoilers here. I won’t even discuss the plot like I usually do when I review a film. Hell, this won’t even qualify as a review. I just wanted to put down some random thoughts. I’ll keep it vague because I knew surprisingly little about this movie going into it—I thought the bad guy’s name was “Ken Rylo” in case you’re wondering how little I knew beforehand. But trust me: the less you know, the better. 
Here goes…
  • It’s good, maybe even great. Probably among the best popcorn flicks I’ve ever seen. 
  • It’s several times better than any of the prequels, too… and keep in mind I’m a guy who actually liked the prequels.
  • It’s not as good as any of the original three. I don’t think Star Wars would have grown to be such a phenomenon if this had been what released forty years ago. Having said that, this is probably as good as a modern Star Wars can possibly be. It feels fresh (for the first three-quarters) and 100% authentic.
  • So yeah, I’m really bummed out to report I didn’t really feel a rush during the climactic scene. Maybe I’m dead inside, but it sure felt just a little too familiar.
  • The music just wasn’t “John Williamsy” enough. The two trailers I saw had a lot more familiar cues than the entire film did.
  • There was a lot of weird, pulpy stuff in the original Star Wars (the chess monster hologram things, the garbage compactor monster, the sinister-looking background aliens) that Lucas seemed to move away from as the series became increasingly family friendly. J.J. Abrams goes out of his way to cram a lot of that stuff back in, so hopefully we’ll see more of that from the upcoming sequels.
  • The film is even more of a spiritual successor to A New Hope than The Empire Strikes Back.
  • There’s a lot of metaphorical imagery (think along the lines of old war and propaganda footage). The crucifix saber is only the tip of the iceberg.
  • I liked the new characters so much (especially the rebel pilot and the new droid) I wouldn’t have felt cheated if the old characters hadn’t returned at all. The new characters probably won’t ever be as iconic as the original characters, but seeing the old characters come back really wasn’t as thrilling as I imagined. Chewbacca seemed out of character, too.
  • I think this movie is going to get better with age, particularly when the next two in the trilogy are completed.
So yeah, I can’t wait to see the next one and since all my complaints are directly related to spoilers, I’ll keep them to myself. I’m sure bigger fans than I will have a lot to argue about in the coming years.
Oh, and don’t worry about showing up a little late if you already have your ticket and your theater has assigned seating. There are so many trailers the audience began to groan each time a new one began.

Western Wednesday: The Ridiculous Six (2015)

Yeah, I know the internet has unanimously decided to hate Adam Sandler, but if I’m going to take this feature seriously, I feel like I’m going to have to review all the new westerns.

Going into it, I knew nothing about The Ridiculous Six other than the fact my Netflix app has been shoving it in my face for the last few days. Having seen the trailer in the time since, I’ll say what I usually say about trailers: avoid it all costs. If I had seen the trailer beforehand, I never would have watched the movie.

It’s kind of silly to discuss this plot, but here goes. It’s the usual SNL-alumni setup, in which the goofy main character has to raise enough money to save _____. It’s like the former cast members of the show are all issued the same template upon graduating, filling in the blanks like a game of Mad Libs. This time Sandler is an orphan who was raised by American Indians. Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? There’s a gag early on in which Sandler’s character takes on a gang of men who all wear eye patches. The cartoonish antics are so embarrassingly bad, a toddler might have written it.

The Left-Eye Gang

One day Sandler’s estranged father, played by Nick Nolte, wanders into camp and confesses he’s grown tired of his life as an outlaw. He’s dying, he says, and wants to do good for a change. Unfortunately, the gang he runs with, which is now led by Danny Trejo, isn’t going to let Nolte retire peacefully. They show up to kidnap him and it’s up to Sandler to steal enough money to pay his ransom.

For the first time in his life, Sandler’s character cuts off his hair, dresses like a white man, and hitches a ride into town with the intention of becoming a bank robber like his old man. There he meets a woman who reveals she knew Sandler’s father. It turns out Sandler has a half-brother and, in perhaps the least surprising twist in movie history, the brother is played by Rob Schneider. Schneider’s character is a Mexican who loves his pet donkey. The donkey, of course, has a flatulence problem because it’s not funny enough that Schneider looks ridiculous riding around on it. This proves to be a lot funnier than the scatological humor Sandler has employed in the past. At one point the donkey farts and Schneider says in his ridiculous accent, “That was a dry one… it means we will be having dry weather tomorrow.”

Soon after employing the donkey’s gastrointestinal skills to rob a bank, the boys meet yet another long lost brother played by Taylor Lautner. There have been Will Ferrell movies which won me over for no other reason than the characters were really, really stupid. (I love watching John C. Reilly try to out-dumb Ferrell, even if I don’t enjoy all of their movies.) Lautner’s character would have fit in just fine with Ferrell’s brand of comedy. It’s clear by then that each major character Sandler meets is going to be a long-lost brother. The rest of the gang includes Lost’s Jorge Garcia as a wild desert man who never learned how to speak, much less read or write; Luke Wilson, who’s responsible for Lincoln’s assassination; and Terry Crews, a piano player whose facial expressions can steal entire scenes. I was pleasantly surprised by how much funnier the movie becomes after the gang assembles.

Steve Zahn is great as usual

If it’s beginning to sound like I liked this movie, it’s because I did. I’m also the only person I know who enjoyed A Million Ways to Die in the West, which might tell you to avoid my opinion at all costs. But consider it this way: Sandler has been making shit for so long, he inevitably got good at it. This is shit of the highest caliber. To compare Six to Sandler’s early attempts at movie-making, in which the entire gimmick was his character ranges from inexplicable baby talk to bipolar rage, is unfair. It’s leagues ahead of that mumble-mouth bullshit. Believe it or not, this is one of the best casts I’ve seen all year. These six actors are somehow pretty great together.

I know the exact moment the film won me over, too: Steve Zahn, who plays the lazy-eyed owner of a trading post, wants to join The Left Eye Gang, so named because new recruits have to pluck their own right eyes out with a sharp spoon. Unfortunately, Zahn’s right eye is his good eye. He tries to reason with his recruiters, but they’re not having it. Zahn’s brainless devotion to the ritual—and the reaction shots of the men watching—is bizarrely hilarious. There’s another scene involving a headless body that’s similarly dark and funny… and extremely stupid.

What I liked most were the bazillion cameos, which is another reason to skip the trailer. A lot of these actors are so unrecognizable, it’s fun trying to figure out who they are. And when you finally figure out who’s playing Mark Twain, you discover a stroke of genius. Seriously. I’m in gleeful awe of this casting decision. Don’t look it up, either, because you’ll just spoil one of the weirdest comedy moments of the year.

my favorite comedy scene in a long time

If, like me, you enjoy the antics of Beavis and Butt-Head because of their extreme stupidity, you might enjoy The Ridiculous Six. But if you’re determined to hold your hatred for Sandler—a quiet, soft-spoken guy who seems agreeable enough in interviews and promo material—then you’re going to hate it.

I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but Adam Sandler’s latest movie kind of requires an open mind.

Midnight Movie: Invasion U.S.A. (1985)

I always thought it was called “Shoot the Dog,” but according to TVtropes, I’m wrong. It’s called “Kick the Dog” and this is how they define it:

Kick the Dog: When a character does something evil for no apparent gain, because the author wants to demonstrate that he’s not a nice guy and shift audience sympathy away from him.


Richard Lynch, who plays the ultra-creepy villain in Invasion U.S.A., does an awful lot of dog-kicking throughout the film. In the opening scene, he poses as a U.S. Coast Guard who welcomes a dozen refugees (who are helpless adrift at sea) before gunning them all down… it’s later revealed he even gunned down the men who helped him gun down the refugees. In his next major scene, he throws an injured woman out the upper-floor window of a building after shooting Billy Drago’s pecker off. Not long after that, he blows up a suburban neighborhood with a rocket launcher while apparently using the infinite ammo cheat.

“Don’t forget your gloves, Chucky, or you’ll catch a cold!”
In case you’re wondering why this movie sounds so uncharacteristically expensive for a Cannon film, it’s because the locations were scheduled for demolition anyway according to the documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. I spoke about it a few days ago and it’s currently on Netflix Instant. You should check it out.
Meanwhile, our reluctant hero is a retired CIA agent living in the Everglades. He’s asked to come back for one last assignment, but refuses on the grounds he’s perfectly happy doing… well, whatever the hell it is he’s doing in the Everglades. As far as I can tell, his life mostly involves driving around aimlessly in an airboat, trapping alligators, and watching an armadillo drink milk from a dog bowl. What’s great about director Joseph Zito is he’s smart enough to limit these necessary but boring scenes. It won’t be long until Lynch’s men show up to kill Chuck’s only friend and explode his house.
Why doesn’t he kill him? Because the movie would have been over then.
Lynch’s master plan involves flooding the United States with a hundred or so terrorists who will pose as policemen and civilians in between random bombings and mass shootings. Keeping with Midnight Movies’ theme this month, this all takes place during Christmas. The only problem is Lynch has nightmares about Chuck Norris every night, in which Norris tells him, “It’s time to die,” before blowing his brains out. 
It’s unclear if this event really happened or if Norris somehow read the bad guy’s dream journal. If it really did happen, you would think Norris would feel kind of bad about letting the mass murderer go when he could have easily shot him, but let’s face it: few of Norris’s movies are complex enough to worry about character development and things as inconsequential as feelings.
That’s not really a complaint, either. Back then, we all knew exactly what we were getting from Chuck Norris films and few of them ever promised to be anything more. They did so well commercially because they appeased to moviegoers’ desire to see something stupidly entertaining, the operative word here being “entertaining.” There’s something pure about Invasion U.S.A., which has some amazing stunts, even if the logic leading up to those trailer moments are inexplicable.
“Are you challenging me to a creep-off?”
Consider the shootout in a mall. Two bad guys come crashing through a plate-glass window in a pickup truck. You’d think after hearing all the gunfire and explosions inside, most of the people in the parking lot would have scattered. Yet a woman pauses to scream obscenities at the henchmen for nearly running her over. Here’s something you won’t see in a Matt Damon film: the bad guys take a handful of her blonde hair and drive off with her hanging from the side of the truck while Chuck Norris pursues them in a commandeered convertible. 
The logical thing for the bad guys to do would be tossing the woman into the street in front of Norris’s car, forcing him to screech to a halt, thereby ending his pursuit. Instead, they drive at least a couple of miles with the woman screaming the entire way. You get the feeling that Norris and his brother, Aaron, who were two of the screenwriters, were sitting around a typewriter (or a Crayon and paper), saying things like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if this happened?”

And honestly, a lot of it is cool. Just because Chuck Norris has the emotional complexity of a turd, it doesn’t mean his juvenile and absurdly violent fantasies aren’t valid forms of art. Invasion U.S.A. is among his most stupidly spectacular films.