DRAGON TEETH (Book Review)

Written by: Michael Crichton

Released in the UK by: HarperCollins, 1st June 2017

285 pages


 

BARE BONES

Following buccaneering adventure Pirate Latitudes and shrink-ray techno-thriller Micro, Dragon Teeth is the third posthumously released and previously undiscovered novel from prolific author, screenwriter and director Michael Crichton since his 2009 passing. Despite exhibiting a wealth of research, this historical Western archaeology lark is – by some degree – the least accomplished of the three, and a far cry from the bestselling scribe’s other dinosaur adventures.

… Keep Scuttling!

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A Fistful of Dollars (Blu-ray Review)

15 – 99mins – 1964


FRONTIER CENTRE

With a permanent squint framing his steely blue eyes and topping off an effortless composure, Clint Eastwood’s nameless Americano vigilante with morals is one unflappable, ice cool icon – even soundtracked his own trill musical calling card (courtesy of the legendary Ennio Morricone) as he solemnly rides into town!

I will openly confess that Westerns aren’t my bag – I just don’t associate with them in the same way I do other genres. For this reason I have often actively avoided them, making this the first time I have ever watched Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti Western and Man with No Name trilogy kickstarter. 80s PictureHouse co-host Thom Downie kindly lent me his copy after my (surprise) enjoyment of Tarantino’s recent gunslinger The Hateful Eight.

Saddled only with the naïve expectation that I would be watching a John Wayne-style adventure Channel 4 would typically show on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I was understandably flabbergasted at A Fistful of Dollars’ relentless savage tone and unashamed portrayal of bloody violence – definitely earning its ‘15’ certificate.

Clint’s rugged and distinctive poncho-clad stranger stumbles into a power struggle between vicious outlaws who rule the impoverished townspeople (including Wolfgang Lukschy’s sheriff) of the Mexican village of San Miguel with an iron fist. Many an innocent is brutally beaten, battered – and in one particularly horrifying display – shot in cold blood even after surrendering!

Leone’s trope-setting operatic direction is epic in its grandiose shots of the mainly sand-covered desert locations, but at heart Fistful is an uncomplicated portrait of good vs. bad (and ugly!). Its singular narrative focus is pitched perfectly to enrapture, stun and rile up the audience in much the same way it does our unstoppable (super) hero.

“Aim for the heart or you’ll never stop me.”

Eastwood – even in his first leading role – is a magnetic presence and clearly the standout star, almost Terminator-esque in his steadfast resilience to pain as he advances menacingly towards his unenviable targets. While I can’t claim I will actively hunt it out, I would definitely not avoid an opportunity to watch A Few Dollars More (1965), if only to see more Clint bad-assery.

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars

The Hateful Eight (Cinema Review)

18 – 2015 – 167mins


L0V3 1T 0R H8 IT?

I will openly confess that, although I have watched all of his films, I’m not a huge Quentin Tarantino fan. I also actively dislike the “Western” genre. Controversial opinions, no doubt, but honest ones. So it’s fair to say that I was less than concerned when it transpired that due to a contractual breakdown, Cineworld (for which I own an Unlimited Card) would not be showing bum-numbing epic The Hateful Eight at any of their cinemas.

Nevertheless, a weekend visit to Norwich prompted a cinema trip, and my friend was – bizarrely – less than keen on a repeat viewing of The Force Awakens (madness!!), so I warily obliged to give QT’s latest a go at his local Odeon.

That’s right, I was paying to see a film I legitimately expected I would hate… Maybe I was glutton for punishment? In truth, I was just hoping to be proved wrong and have my eyes opened. Meanwhile, my mate – who watched a total of THREE Westerns that day! – was excited and optimistic for what he hoped would be another classic adult thrill-ride of witty dialogue and stylish direction from an auteur who never shies away from pulling punches.

A contracted three hours of lengthy character natter, tense exchanges at gun point, misogynistic behaviour and profuse racism (I’m not doing a very good job of selling this, am I?!), we exited the screen and exchanged verdicts… Surprisingly, my friend was less than impressed, caring little for the unlikeable ensemble of “hateful” personalities and cringing at their less-than-moral traits. He openly condemned it as his least favourite of Tarantino’s eight film cannon.

As for me, the QT-ambivalent, Western-avoider? I had an absolute blast!

*Stunned silence*

Yes, I will confess that the film is way too long. Some of the character-defining filler could easily have been given the chop and in no way effected the simple mystery plot, which sees eight less-than-noble strangers holed up in a roadside inn as a blizzard rages around them, their agendas and identities slowly revealed as time ticks by and the body count rises. But the snowstorm-savaged mountainous Wyoming locale and superb Ennio Morricone score (which has rightfully just won a Golden Globe) lent even the drawn out opening titles pitch-perfect ambience.

But what really sold the film to me was the performances. Yes, these are horrible people who do unforgivable things to each other – Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), in particular, is treated like a ragdoll by John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), which is made only slightly less distasteful owing to the fact she is a murderer on her way to the noose – and to be trapped in confined surroundings with such lowlifes would be utter hell, but the top-notch cast embody these OTT renegades with unrestrained zeal.

Samuel L. Jackson clearly has a hoot as bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren, his every line delivered with sparky, unrestrained confidence, while Tim Roth steals the show as bubbly English oddball Oswaldo Mobray (what a name!), who radiates eccentricity and had me finding it hard not to grin every time he opened his mouth.

I appreciate The Hateful Eight will not be to everyone’s taste. Owing to its setting just after the American Civil War, the “N” word is thrown about worryingly casually, while in spite of loooong periods of talky inactive, there are flashes of grotesque violence and profuse splashes of claret which will make even the toughest constitutions quiver. I can fully appreciate why this has not been as universally accepted as some of Tarantino’s most beloved films, but for a three hour Western to win me over, it must be doing SOMETHING right!!

So thank you to my mate, who I’m glad persuaded me to give this film a chance, because if he hadn’t, I would never have bothered to see it on the big screen, and I’m not sure if the cinematography or score would have looked or sounded anywhere near as majestic on DVD. I’m just sorry he didn’t enjoy it as much as I did.

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars