John Ruth “The Hangman” (Kurt Russell) is a bounty hunter known for bringing in his bounties alive, regardless of the difficulty in doing so. His latest conquest is Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), but whilst transporting her by stagecoach through a brutal winter storm, he is forced to stop off at Minnie’s Haberdashery to wait out the blizzard. On his way there he picks up a fellow bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and the new sheriff of the town they’re heading for, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). Upon arriving at the haberdashery, Ruth and the others find Minnie nowhere to be found, and four strangers (Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Demian Bichir and Bruce Dern) holding the fort instead. Continue reading →
Arguably surpassing Howard Hawk’s 50s sci-fi classic the Thing from Another World (a feat unlikely to be achieved by the imminent Mary Elizabeth Winstead starring prequel, confusingly also named ‘The Thing’), John Carpenter’s Thing deserves its place on the list for Rob Bottin’s effects work, occasionally assisted by the legend that is Stan Winston.
Defiantly demanding that the titular creature – a life form able to imitate any living thing it comes across – not just be a man in a suit, we are treated to all manner of beasties, from an arm-munching human torso to spider-legged scuttling heads with eyeballs on stalks, as well as the nightmare inducing stages in their transformations. In a post CGI era these effects still hold ground with today’s effects houses, showing at times animatronic models can be better and more memorable than a bunch of pixels.
Carpenter has always been a master of cranking up tension through the roof, and the secluded Antarctic research base here provides the perfect scenario, with its all-male inhabitants already at each other’s throats from cabin fever. Usually with these kind of monster attacks a small group thrillers it can be easy to see who at least a few of the early victims will be, but here the equal screen time, characterisation and importance to the plot, as well as a few well-placed red herrings, mean that anyone trying to second guess the script will pursue a fruitless endeavour.
Ennio Morricone’s atmospheric score and some sharp dialogue add to the sense of claustrophobia and breakdown of relationships, and there’s an interesting spoiler if you speak Norwegian, when the basic plot is outlined at the initial meeting of some researchers at the beginning of the film.
What on Earth is this film doing on the list? It seems enough people voted for it to become the 430th greatest film of all time in Empire’s 2008 poll, but it has nothing going for it. The plot is sketchy, full of holes and relies too much on coincidence, the sets are shoddy and in danger of falling over, the effects are terrible and the script even worse (“Are you ready, Jack?” “I was born ready.”)
The story, as much as there is one, concerns opinionated but dumb brute Jack Burton (Kurt Russell), truck driver of the Pork Chop Express. After meeting up with an old friend in San Francisco’s Chinatown district, he loses his truck and his friend’s fiancé is kidnapped by a mysterious, yet ridiculous, magical Chinese cult. Burton is, unquestionably, a bit of a dick, only helping to look for her in the hope of finding his truck, and getting the money his friend owes him. They spend the rest of the film looking for her, with the help of Kim Cattrall’s friendly neighbourhood lawyer, who just happens to be in league with a reporter writing an article about the magic. The mythology is inconsistent (as are the characters’ fighting abilities from one scene to the next) and bizarre, and the bad guys look too ridiculous to be taken seriously, flying through the air shooting lightning from their hands, wearing giant comedy lampshades on their heads.
The final confrontation is disappointingly brief, and the freaky ball of floating eyes and Chewbacca/orang-utan/rejected muppet hybrid are unsettling, not to mention almost entirely superfluous to the plot. Maybe, after enough alcohol and a dangerously undercooked kebab this could slip into so-bad-it’s-good territory, but otherwise avoid at all costs.